Basically, there are two ways for an executor to get help from a lawyer:
- Hire a lawyer to act as a "coach," answering legal questions as they come up. The lawyer might also do some research, look over documents before the executor files them, or prepare an estate tax return.
- Turn the probate over to the lawyer. If the executor just doesn't want to deal with the probate court process, a lawyer can do everything. (The executor is still responsible for making decisions about what to do, though, with the lawyer's advice.) The lawyer will be paid out of the estate. In most states, lawyers charge by the hour ($175-$300 is common) or charge a lump sum, but in a few places, including Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, and Wyoming, state law authorizes the lawyer to take a certain percentage of the gross value of the deceased person's estate, unless the executor makes a written agreement calling for less. An executor can probably find a competent lawyer who will agree to a lower fee.