In California, executor’s compensation is a matter of right, and is determined either by the provisions in the decadent’s will, relief from which may be petitioned to the court, or by a fee schedule set out by statute.
California Executor Fee Statute
Determination of executor’s fees in California is based on §10800 through §10804 of the California Probate Code, which provides for testamentary provision or statutory fees, either of which the executor is entitled to as a matter of right.
§ 10802 states that if compensation is addressed in the will, it can only be changed if the court grants executor’s petition to be relieved of those testamentary compensation provisions. By express provision of the law in § 10803, even agreement among the affected parties is not sufficient by itself to increase or decrease testamentary compensation.
If fees are not governed by specific terms in the will, or relief from those terms is granted, they are governed by § 10800 of the Probate Code, which sets out a regressive schedule of percentages based on the value of the estate to be distributed:
(1) Four percent on the first one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).
(2) Three percent on the next one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).
(3) Two percent on the next eight hundred thousand dollars ($800,000).
(4) One percent on the next nine million dollars ($9,000,000).
(5) One-half of one percent on the next fifteen million dollars ($15,000,000).
(6) For all amounts above twenty-five million dollars ($25,000,000), a reasonable amount to be determined by the court.
In calculating the value of the estate for this purpose, encumbrances and obligations are not considered.
§ 10801 provides for the court to allow additional compensation for “extraordinary” services.
§ 10804 states that the court must approve any additional compensation for an attorney who acts as attorney for himself in the capacity of personal representative.
See California Probate Code, §§ 10800-10804 (2013).
You can find the relevant codes or explore the full statute on the official state website here: California State Legislature, Probate Code
Selected Case Law
As a matter of right, the personal representative’s compensation may not be affected by the existence of the estate’s debts or other obligations.
As held in the case of Estate of Getty, 143 Cal. App. 3d 455, 458-468 (Cal. Ct. App. 1983):
The personal representative and his attorney are entitled to statutory fees as a matter of right, and the fact that an estate is a simple one and the fees larger than would be adequate compensation for the work involved does not affect the right to the full statutory compensation. Conversely, if the estate is more complicated and requires more work, effort and skill than is required in the simple estate, that does not change the nature of services from ordinary to extraordinary.