This is going to vary from one estate to another and the capacity in which the attorney is working. If the attorney is assisting the executor with the estate administration process, then the North Carolina statutory law provides that the attorney’s fees must be reasonable and not exceed 5% of the estate. Furthermore, they will offset the executor’s commission. So, for example, if the executor hires an attorney to do the majority of the work, the executor’s commission will be relatively low to offset the attorney’s fees for handling the administration.
However, if the attorney provides legal services that are beyond routine estate administration, then there is no cap on the amount of attorneys’ fees, they must simply be reasonable under the circumstances. This might include handling a will contest or estate litigation, lawsuits brought by creditors, wrongful death lawsuits, and similar services.
While there aren’t many studies on the subject, anecdotally, it seems that attorneys’ fees tend to average between 1% to 7% of the estate. Proportionally, smaller estates tend to pay a higher percentage in attorneys’ fees because there is a certain amount of work that must be done no matter the size of the estate.
Most trust and estate lawyers tend to either bill on an hourly basis or some sort of flat fee arrangement. With hourly billing, a set hourly rate will be established for the lawyers time as well as any other staff members times that may work on the case. Generally, you will be invoiced separate for additional expenses such as postage, photocopying, filing fees and the like.
Other attorneys may agree to work on a flat fee basis, typically calculated as a percentage of the value of the estate. Again, there aren’t many studies on the subject, but anecdotally, it seems that attorneys’ fees tend to range between .5% to 2% of the estate, with smaller estates being more likely to be towards the higher end of the range.
If you're involved in a North Carolina probate or estate administration, or if you want to make sure your own estate is protected, please call us at (919)443-3035. Ask about a free phone assessment, or contact us online. At the end of your assessment, you'll know the next steps to take, and we'll connect you with resources that can help. There is no obligation to you. The assessment is completely free.