What are court and probate bonds?
For some legal matters, the courts require that someone post a bond guaranteeing performance. In other words, someone makes a monetary investment to ensure that something happens as it should. There are different judicial bond types, depending on the kind of court proceeding.
Types of “fiduciary bonds” that ensure people fulfill their legal obligations:
for criminal defense matters
A bond may ensure the person accused of a crime will return to court on the appointed date and stand trial.
Various types of bonds (including plaintiff’s attachment bonds, injunction bonds, and condemnation bonds) may protect property or assets in dispute during court proceedings.
for probate matters
A bond may protect a deceased person’s estate from negligence or fraud on behalf of the executor (the person responsible for distributing and managing the assets).
A bond may ensure the appellant pays the court costs and fees associated with an appeal.
How do court and probate bonds work?
Individuals who need a bond pay a percentage of the overall worth of the bond. The issuer of the bond (the surety) puts up the bond’s total value as a guarantee to the court.
surety (bond issuer)
When an individual is charged with a crime, the court may allow them to return home rather than wait for trial in jail. The court will impose some restrictions to ensure they will return to stand trial and not interfere with the pursuit of justice. These can involve:
- Not traveling outside of their state or territory
- Wearing a monitoring device
- Checking in with a court representative regularly
- Registering a bond with the court
Bail bonds are posted with the court on a criminal defendant’s behalf by a bail or surety bond company. If the defendant fails to appear for trial or further hearings or violates the other conditions the court has set for their release, they forfeit the amount paid for the bond. A warrant may be issued for their arrest.
Judicial Fiduciary Bonds
Probate bonds and other types of judicial fiduciary bonds work a little differently. Rather than ensuring someone performs an action (returning to court to stand trial), they act more like insurance policies. They may protect the property (subject of or related to the court action) while it’s being disputed or disbursed. These bonds may also guarantee that a party has funds available to pay a settlement, verdict, costs, fees, and fines when litigation concludes.
In probate matters, probate bonds protect estate funds from fraud or mismanagement by the estate representative while the funds are being distributed. The estate representative owes fiduciary duties to the estate to ensure its best interests. If no malfeasance occurs, the fiduciary bond amount may be returned to the estate.
Why do people need court and probate bonds?
1. Criminal Defense Matters
When someone is charged with a crime, a judge either remands them to custody (requiring them to stay in jail until their next court date or trial) or releases them with their promise to return at the appointed time. Typically, a defendant is required to deposit a sum of money with the court to ensure they return.
A defendant may choose to post the entire amount in cash, but most people don’t have the kind of liquid assets necessary to do this. More often, defendants or their family members post a bond for the bail amount from a surety bond company.
- The company charges the purchaser a small percentage of the total amount, plus a fee.
- If the defendant meets their obligations and returns to court, the purchaser may get the deposit back.
- If they don’t appear, the surety company may keep the money paid (and pay the court whatever additional amount is required).
During litigation, there is often property in dispute between the parties involved in business litigation, a divorce, or a proceeding involving a government or municipal entity. Many court bonds may help protect the value and integrity of the property at issue while the litigation is in progress (which may take months or even years).
3. Probate Matters
In probate matters, the court decides whether a probate bond is required. Most probate cases require a fiduciary bond unless:
- A valid will explicitly waives the bond requirement or
- All intestate heirs sign a waiver of bond.
Suppose an estate is complicated or involves many unsecured creditors pursuing debts against the deceased. In that case, a court may order a probate bond – regardless of the wishes of the heirs or beneficiaries.
ZipBonds provides thousands of bond options, including court and probate bonds.
How much do court and probate bonds cost?
Bail bonds vary by state and company, ranging from as low as 5% to as high as 20%. This means that the purchase amount of the bond will be between 5% and 20% of the bail amount.
Example: For a defendant issued a $10,000 bail, a court bond will require the purchaser to deposit between $500 and $2,000 with the surety company. The bonding company will also charge a non-refundable fee. Bail agents typically charge 10% of the bond amount as a fee, with a minimum of $100. There may be additional fees required by law in some states that go toward victim relief funds, court costs, law enforcement funds, or other administrative costs.
Judicial bonds, including many court bonds and appeal bonds, generally cost between 1-7% of the bond amount. The percentage may depend on the nature of the action, the property involved, and the principal’s creditworthiness. Judicial bonds often require the attachment of “collateral” – property of value – to secure the amount of the bond.
The personal representative of the estate (called either the “executor” or “administrator,” depending on the state) will pay a portion of the value of the estate. This is usually around 0.5%. The probate bond protects the entire value of the estate.
Although representatives usually must purchase the bond out-of-pocket before they’re appointed by the court, they may use estate funds to reimburse themselves for the cost once the estate is opened. Like probate bonds, the surety company charges a small, non-refundable fee. If the estate settles without incident, the purchase price may be refunded to the estate, less the fee.
Court and Probate Bond Requirements
For all court bonds, including bail and probate bonds, an adult individual must provide valid identification and contact information. A surety company will require payment of a percentage of the total bonded amount, plus fees. You may also be required to undergo a credit check, depending on the amount secured. Judicial bonds often require the attachment of “collateral” (property of value) to secure the bond amount.
- Valid ID
- Contact information
- Payment and fees
- Credit check
- Attachment of collateral
Frequently Asked Questions
The cost (premium) of a court or probate bond varies based on many factors, including the creditworthiness of the individuals applying for the bond.
- Criminal matters: The bond amount and nature of the charges are factors in the cost of the bond.
- Judicial matters: The nature of the litigation, the property in dispute, and the creditworthiness of the principals will determine the cost.
- Probate matters: The cost of the bond can vary depending on the size and type of assets and debts of the estate, the relationship of the personal representative to the proceedings, and how contentious the settlement of the estate is expected to be.
Most individuals can obtain court bonds or probate bonds even with bad credit, but they may have to pay higher fees or put down a higher percentage of the bond amount.
In criminal matters, once a defendant complies with their obligation to return to court, the court may release the bail bond amount. The surety bond company may return the premium to the purchaser, less the non-refundable fee.
Return of the principal for other court bonds varies depending on the nature of the litigation and the type of fiduciary bond. For probate bonds, the amount paid may be returned to the personal representative upon final settlement and closure of the estate (or to the estate itself, if the representative was reimbursed for its cost).
Shop around for the best rates. Bail bonds, court bonds, and probate bonds have variable rates and fees. You could save a substantial amount by comparing your options online.
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