Today, after 20+ years of planning estates, more than half of our firm's business involves the after-death administration of wills and trusts. We currently have two full-time paralegals who work almost exclusively on probate and trust administration.
Estate administration, also known as post-mortem administration and "probate," comes at a time when surviving family members are emotionally distraught. Unfortunately, that is often the same time that less-scrupulous family members start seeing dollar signs, which often results in greedy misbehavior. It is almost axiomatic that if one adult child in a family is economically challenged or has poor character, that is the child who will show up to "help" when a parent begins losing mental capacity. Good lawyers can help spot and stop improper actions by self-serving potential inheritors.
Estate administrations and guardianships are very procedural, very exacting, and sometimes quite arcane in their methods and forms. For all these reasons, it is never a good idea to try administering an estate or guardianship without the help of an experienced attorney with a firm that is properly staffed to handle all the administrative challenges of estate work.
Renowned administration firms know how to obtain information from reluctant financial firms, employers, and government agencies. They can help negotiate settlements with creditors and settle disputes among family members. Most persons do not realize that executors and trustees are personally liable to creditors and beneficiaries for any improper actions, a risk that is eliminated if the executor retains (and follows the instructions of) an attorney or firm that is highly skilled and experienced in estate and trust administration.
Estate administration can take months or years, depending on size and circumstances. For example, an insolvent $300,000 estate (that is, the debts exceed the assets) can be far more troublesome to administer than a $3,000,000 estate having no debt and no quarrelsome inheritors.
Most law firm administration fees are charged hourly, ranging from $110 for junior paralegals to $450 or more for senior partners. Our firm tries to handle trust administration cases on a fixed-fee basis whenever possible. Most Ohio probate courts require hourly billing for probate cases. You can expect that fees for a "typical" estate — whether billed as a fixed fee or hourly — will be between 1.25% and 2.5% of the estate assets; the higher range for small "messy" estates and the lower range for larger well-planned and organized estates.
If you are reading this material in anticipation of the death of a loved one, you should not wait until after death to contact our firm. More than half the time, some steps can be taken prior to death that will minimize after-death inconvenience, aggravation, and cost.