The Horrors of Probate

It is no coincidence that the interminable case in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, was a probate matter.  (We don’t want to spoil the story for you, but it finally ended when the lawyers’ fees had eaten up every penny of what had been a huge fortune left by a will, leaving the beneficiaries with nothing.)  Bleak House is fiction, of course, but Dickens knew what he was talking about.  Here’s a brief list of some of the unfortunate consequences of probate (and remember, these will always apply, whether you leave a will or not):

Expense: Probate is expensive.  The fees of lawyers, personal representatives, and other professionals must all be met in full out of the estate.  This is money that would otherwise have gone to your beneficiaries.  In Missouri, fees for attorneys and personal representatives are generously fixed by statute, as a percentage of the total gross value of your estate (i.e., before your debts and mortgages are subtracted).  Here is a table of probate fees stipulated by the Missouri legislature:


Value Of Gross Estate

Attorney Fees

PR Fees






$   25,000 $    1,050 $    1,050 $    2,100 8.40%
$    50,000 $     1,800 $     1,800 $    3,600 7.20%
$   100,000 $     3,300 $     3,300 $    6,600 6.60%
$   200,000 $     6,050 $     6,050 $   12,100 6.10%
$   300,000 $     8,800 $     8,800 $   17,600 5.80%
$   400,000 $   11,550 $   11,550 $   23,100 5.80%
$   500,000 $   14,050 $   14,050 $   28,100 5.60%
$   600,000 $   16,550 $   16,550 $   33,100 5.50%
$   800,000 $   21,550 $   21,550 $   43,100 5.40%
$ 1,000,000 $   26,550 $   26,550 $   53,100 5.30%
$ 1,200,000 $   30,550 $   30,550 $   61,100 5.10%
$ 1,500,000 $   36,550 $   36,550 $   73,100 4.90%
$ 3,000,000 $   66,550 $   66,550 $  133,100 4.50%
$ 5,000,000 $ 106,550 $ 106,550 $ 213,100 4.30%


Remember, the above fees are minimum fees, and are calculated as a percentage of the gross value of your estate.  This means that if you own a property worth $200,000 which is subject to a mortgage of $170,000, then although the true value of the asset to your beneficiaries is really $30,000, it is treated as being worth the full $200,000 for the purposes of calculating probate fees.  What’s more, the professionals can – and often do – petition the court for additional fees.  On top of this there may also be professional fees of any advisers that your personal representative employs to help him with his duties, and also court costs, publication costs, bond premiums, and appraisal fees.  As you can imagine, it can quickly add up, leaving your intended beneficiaries with a lot less than you might have hoped. 

Time: An equally unwelcome consequence of probate is the delay caused by the court process.  Generally, it takes somewhere between one year and three years before probate is completed and the personal representative is able to distribute the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries.  The absolute minimum time period is six months and a day.  Eighteen months is about average. 

Distress: Administering the estate of a departed loved one is never going to be enjoyable.  But the complexity of the probate process inevitably causes even more emotional strain on those who are already struggling to cope with their sense of loss.

Loss of Control: The probate process is controlled exclusively by the local probate court.  Nothing gets done without its approval.  This may cause significant problems.  For example, if an asset needs to be sold to raise cash for an emergency need, this can only be done with the consent of the court, and this may take some time.

Privacy: All probate proceedings are a matter of public record.  Anyone is entitled to pore over your will and assets and learn more about you than you would ever wish.  If you own a business, then the details of that business may also be subject to public scrutiny – a boon for your competitors, and possibly disastrous for your business-which, of course, will already be struggling with your absence.

The good news is that all of these things – the expense, the delay, the distress, the loss of control and privacy – can be avoided.  To find out how, click here.