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How much should the executor of a California estate plan be paid?

Your older sister was named the executor of your father's estate. Your dad was your last living parent. You were fine with her having that job. She's a retired realtor who at one point in her life worked on Wall Street. Therefore, she had the time and the skills to handle the job.

Now that the estate is just about settled, and she gives you the necessary documents to sign, you learn that she took a $20,000 fee for herself from the $1 million estate. Can she do that?

That's actually a reasonable executor fee for California. However, it's preferable if the fee is detailed in the estate plan when a person drafts it. Under our state's probate law, the typical amount is:

  • 4 percent for the initial $100,000
  • 3 percent for up to the next $100,000
  • 2 percent for the remaining $800,000

On estates valued at more than $1 million, the executor is usually paid 1 percent on the next $9 million and then .05 percent for the next $15 million. Therefore, a standard executor's fee for a $1 million estate would be $23,000.

If the fee the executor is taking is reasonable, which it would be in this hypothetical scenario, it's likely not worth taking someone to court for. However, if someone suddenly presents a bill to the estate without discussing it with the family, it might be reasonable to wonder what else they've done without first discussing it with you.

As noted, it's generally best if the grantor of an estate designates the executor's fee and makes sure they know what it is and believes it's fair. If that hasn't been done, it might be a good idea for the family to discuss the fee before the settlement of the estate begins. Wherever you are in the estate planning or administration process, an experienced California estate planning attorney can answer your questions and provide guidance based on the California Probate Code.

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