For many, investing money in anything results in our guilty consciences needling us with a million questions: “Do you really need this?” “Will it make me happier or make my life easier?” And, of course, “How am I going to pay for this?”

Hiring a probate attorney is undoubtedly one of those investments. Admittedly, attorneys aren’t exactly known for being cheap and often require a retainer fee be paid up front. And if you don’t have a properly prepared and updated estate plan, probate is often an inevitable occurrence. Trust us when we say that an estate plan is cheaper, easier, and an investment in yours and your loved one’s everlasting peace of mind. But human nature also tells us that many people simply won’t pre-plan for a variety of reasons, requiring a probate estate. So what options do you have in affording the probate process when your loved one passes without a plan to avoid probate?

Weighing Your Options

The first and most obvious option is that you, theoretically, can struggle through it. Seeing this time and time again, I don’t recommend trying it. The unpleasant anticipation of bills and constant financial stress is not healthy. This is also usually on top of an already emotionally stressful situation. Not to mention the fact that the probate courts are legally barred from providing you with any legal advice that might help you navigate the confusing maze of a process we call probate administration.

Pro-Bono (free or discounted) assistance is also an option. Legal aid clinics can match you with a probate attorney willing to service your legal matters at little to no cost. Unfortunately though, most legal aid clinics do not offer probate services.

Another option is to personally pay the retainer fee to secure the initial representation you need. Once assets in the estate are claimed and/or sold, you are entitled to be reimbursed for the funds you personally advanced to get the probate process started. Many firms, including The Probate Pro, also accept credit cards, which can help defray the initial start-up costs.

Another possibility is to search for an attorney who will represent you without the initial retainer fee. If you have an estate with more assets than liabilities (known as a “solvent estate”), some attorneys may agree to forgo an initial retainer. These agreements generally require that payment be made once estate assets become available, i.e. an account is claimed or property is sold, resulting in the estate being liquid. The Probate Pro offers this option for certain types of estates. Please contact us for a free consultation to see if this option works for your particular estate.  Lastly, some attorneys will share some of the work with you, allowing you to do what you are able and willing to do to keep costs down. Some clients prefer to do much of the legwork themselves – with guidance! – to keep costs down. Others prefer to have the attorney do everything to alleviate their stress. Whatever your preference, The Probate Pro is committed to serving you.

What Types of Probate Matters Do These Payment Options Apply To?

The latter two options above are typically available to clients who are probating decedent estates or administering trust estates. Decedent estates are generally required when a loved one has passed without a fully funded trust, requiring the assets to be probated. Trust estates are generally required when a loved one has passed with a funded trust and those assets now need to be gathered and distributed according to the terms outlined in the trust. Sometimes, both processes can be required.

If you are petitioning a court for guardianship and/or conservatorship over a loved one, generally a retainer fee is required up front for the work required to petition the court on your behalf. Assuming the petitions are granted and the court finds that your loved one is in need of a guardian and/or conservator, you can generally get reimbursed the fees you advanced because they were for the benefit of your loved one and for their protection. Future costs and fees for ongoing conservatorship administration are generally paid out of the protected person’s individual assets, relieving the conservator and/or initial petitioner of the burden of personally paying.

One Less Reason to Fear Probate!

We understand that many people are hesitant to contact an attorney. At the Probate Pro, we don’t want cost to be a reason for hesitation. One of our core values is telling it like it is. To that end, we always offer a free consultation and we promise to explain your legal and financial options so you understand the process and costs involved from the very beginning.

So what do you have to lose? Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your probate needs and an individualized plan of action that works for you. or 248.399.3300.