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Choosing A Probate Lawyer
IF YOU ARE THE PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE YOU CAN PICK ANY LAWYER YOU WANT. YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO USE THE LAWYER WHO DRAFTED THE WILL EVEN IF THE WILL SAYS THAT I DESIRE ATTORNEY SO AND SO TO BE MY PROBATE ATTORNEY. (This was probably the idea of the attorney who wrote the will, not the will writer's idea.) IF THE LAWYER WHO DRAFTED THE WILL KEPT THE ORIGINAL HE OR SHE MUST GIVE IT TO YOU IF YOU CHOOSE A DIFFERENT LAWYER TO DO THE PROBATE. PROBATE FEES CAN VARY TREMENDOUSLY FROM LAWYER TO LAWYER. BE SUSPICIOUS OF ANY ATTORNEYS WHO DO NOT WANT TO DISCUSS WHAT THEY WILL CHARGE TO DO A PROBATE
There is no requirement to use the attorney who drafted the will. Some attorneys who write wills charge a low price such as $99 and keep the original will "for safe-keeping" knowing that when you die your heirs will have to contact them to get the original will. Many heirs will automatically hire the attorney with the will, with the result that they may pay much more than they have to for the probate process.
The attorney who drafted the will and keeps the original must either give it to the executor or file it with the court when the will writer (testator) dies. N.R.S. 136.050(1) specifies that, "Any person having possession of a will shall, within 30 days after knowledge of the death of the death of the person who executed the will, deliver it to the clerk of the district court which has jurisdiction of the case or to the personal representative named in the will." In one case a client, who was named executor in her husband's will, came to me and told me that upon her husband's death she talked to the attorney who wrote and had the original will, and was told the probate fee would be $7,000. When she said she didn't want to use that attorney under those terms, the attorney told her she owed a $700 consultation fee and that he would only release the will after payment of that fee. That attorney's behavior, according to the account given by the client, was illegal. (We did her probate for $2300.)
For uncontested probates here are some typical fee arrangements:
- The lawyer charges the statutory rate of 4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the estate, 3% of the next $100,000, 2% of the next $800,000, 1% of the next $9,000,000, 1/2% of the next $15,000,000 and a court determined rate for anything over $25,000,000. N.R.S. 150.060(4). Gross value means if a $500,000 house has a $400,000 mortgage the fee is charged on $500,000.
- The lawyer charges an hourly rate. Under Nevada law paralegals operating under the lawyer's supervision may charge the lawyer's rate, or the lawyer may offer a discount for the paralegal's time.
- INCREDIBLY, some lawyer get clients to sign retainer agreements promising to pay the lawyer the HIGHER of the above two fee arrangements.
- Client and lawyer are free to agree to any fee arrangement they want, subject to court approval if the fee is higher than $3,500.
Our discount rates are discussed in detail on our Probate page.
Any lawyer who says all probate attorneys charge the same rate set by statute is not telling the truth. No court or state bar is going to criticize a lawyer who charges less than the statutory rate for a probate. Courts and the state bar are set up to protect clients against lawyers charging too much. The days when lawyers could enforce minimum fees are long since gone.
The State Bar of Nevada runs a Lawyer referral service. Any Nevada lawyer can pay $50 a year to be listed if the lawyer has legal malpractice insurance and is in good standing with the bar. But, the lawyer must pay to the State Bar 20% of all fees collected. The Clark County Bar also operates a lawyer referral service. The lawyers don't have to share their fees but have to pay a substantial monthly or yearly fee to be on the referral list. There are various commercial lawyer referral services that charge lawyers one way or another for referrals. Reed & Mansfield does not participate in any of these referral services because we cannot afford to keep our rates low AND pay referral fees or pay for listings.
A potential client can always call the state bar and ask if a lawyer is in good standing with the state bar. The biggest lawyer rating service used by legal consumers in avvo.com.