Using a lawyer
By Martin Brieger, Site Editor.
Lawyers are the experts, which is why this is the most expensive option. It will, however, give you most peace of mind, especially if your wishes are complex.
Consider a lawyer if:
Your estate might be liable to pay tax.
You have a complicated family situation, such as former partners or estranged children, and want to ensure your wishes will be met.
You want to protect someone after you’ve passed on – for example, a disabled family member.
You want to talk through your options with a pro, or need support you can trust.
If you do choose to hire a lawyer, beware that it will come at a price. It could cost you at least $300 but can easily be $1,000+ if you have a more complicated situation. If you do have more complex circumstances, however, hiring a lawyer is probably the best option for you. For example, this could be if you have a lot of assets and dependents, and more beneficiaries. While the decision regarding your estate is ultimately yours, an attorney can guide you through the process and help you word your last will document in the best way possible, avoiding mistakes. This is, after all, what you are paying for – legal advice – so you will have the full benefit of a correct, error-free will. Take note that if you decide to make any changes to your will, this will mean another trip to the lawyer and added costs as well.
It is common for a lawyer to charge you a flat fee to write your will and other estate planning documents. Flat fees benefit lawyers in several ways:
They can make use of forms they have already worded and written for different situations. They will assemble these to fit a client’s wishes.
With a flat fee, a lawyer can charge for their experience and skill, despite that it won’t take them much time to put together your will document. This also means they are not required to keep records of how many hours they spend on your case.
Some lawyers also find arranging a flat fee allows everyone to relax, bettering the relationship between attorney and client. The client will not feel hesitant to call or email with questions regarding their will, and the lawyer can take the time to listen and explain things to you without feeling like it’s adding up to additional costs.
Having said this, not all lawyers charge their clients the same flat fee and you will have to chat to them to find out what the cost will be for your case. It is important to state your situation and wishes and a good lawyer will listen to these before giving you a quote.
Some lawyers bill clients according to the hour. This hourly rate depends on the lawyer’s training, experience and skill, and of course, where you live. In areas where cost of living is higher, you are more likely to pay more. For example, in a small city, you may find a lawyer who charges $150 per hour, however in a big city, you will likely be met with at least $200 per hour. Additionally, lawyers that belong to large firms typically charge higher fees than smaller firms or sole practitioners. A lawyer who specializes in estate planning only will likely charge more than one who deals with general issues but will also be more knowledgeable about your situation.
In most cases, people end up paying for more than just a simple will as lawyers will correctly advise clients about other estate planning documents, such as power of attorney for finances and a living will. These are important documents as they give someone else the power to act on your behalf should you not be able to in the event of being incapacitated. Each state has its own requirements for these documents. They are not complex, but they may add a few hundred dollars to your lawyer’s bill.
Your lawyer may also recommend a living trust, will allows your family to avoid the delay of the probate process after your death. Not every person needs to have a living trust – it depends on the state in which you live; how your assets are owned and your age. This will likely add a solid extra amount to your lawyer’s fee.