The probate process is not the horror film that people often imagine it to be. The judges are human, the lawyers are not zombies, and no one in the clerk’s office goes by the name of Dr. Frankenstein. People are most afraid of the costs of probate.
A little background first…probate is the process in which a will is validated, a personal representative (executor or executrix) is appointed to handle the leg work, bills are paid, and then assets are distributed to beneficiaries. In Arkansas this can take 9 to 12 months for easy estates. Complicated estates can take much longer.
In other states, probates can be very expensive. In Arkansas, the filing cost is $165, the newspaper notice is $125 to $200, and various mailings can be another $100 to $200. The major expense is the attorney’s fee.
Attorneys can charge hourly with fees often ranging from $200 to $500 per hour (staff usually bills at a lower hourly rate). Some attorneys charge hourly with a minimum fee.
Attorneys can also charge according the graduated table found in the Arkansas Statutes at Section 28-48-108. The attorney fee is approximately 3% of the assets that go through probate. Any asset with a beneficiary or joint owner (in most cases), does not go through probate and thus is not part of the attorney fee calculation.
The personal representative can also charge a fee under the same statute. The personal representative’s fee is approximately 3% of the assets that go through probate but usually excludes real property in the calculations.
Perhaps the largest cost of probate is the personal one. The lengthy process can delay grieving and increase conflict among the beneficiaries. Beneficiaries often become less agreeable as they wait for their distributions. Often the beneficiaries do not understand the process and become suspicious because of any delay. Words said following a death are remembered long after the loved one dies.
The greatest gift to leave to your beneficiaries is a coherent plan that simplifies the after death procedure as much as possible.
Karen Baim Reagler is an estate planning attorney in Hot Springs, Arkansas. A graduate of Duke, Washington University, and Western New England University, Ms. Reagler brings her knowledge to all of Arkansas.