If you’re ready to create an estate plan, you’re probably researching your options and deciding on the right attorney for you. And you may be wondering what to expect all this to cost.
As opposed to something like comparison shopping for a car, working with an attorney can sometimes feel like signing your name on a dotted line without really understanding what you’re going to pay.
Estate planning can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to many thousands, depending on the complexity of your situation and the attorney you use. You’ll pay more for attorneys with more experience since they’ll use that knowledge to structure your estate plan in a way that’s the most beneficial for you and your beneficiaries.
But when you get quotes, you won’t always be comparing apples to apples.
Fortunately, many estate planning attorneys are working to bring more transparency and innovation to the estate planning process. Things like early consultations, flat fees, and set packages can help you understand how the process works and what you’ll have at the end.
What is estate planning?
Estate planning is the process of creating legally-binding documents and structures that protect your assets, your loved ones, and your wellbeing during incapacitation or at the end of life.
These documents can do many things. They can provide instructions about the distribution of your assets upon your death. They can define who will care for any minors after your death and provide them instructions on how to do so. They can explain your medical and financial wishes if you are incapacitated and designate someone to make decisions on your behalf.
When people hear “estate planning,” they often think of a will. But a will is only the most basic estate planning tool. Many people benefit from creating trusts, which allow their loved ones to avoid probate. By doing so, they protect them from the time, money, and mental strain that’s often associated with the probate process.
And other estate planning documents, like a power of attorney and advanced directive for healthcare, may be necessary if you become incapacitated or too ill to handle your own financial matters.
For many people, the estate planning process provides an opportunity to answer important questions. Who do we want to be the guardian for our children? Do I want to remain on life support? Who would I want making medical decisions for me if I were no longer able to?
Leaving families and loved ones to answer these questions at a moment of grief can be painful. Instead, estate planning is an opportunity to prepare in advance for both the unexpected and the inevitable.
During the estate planning process, your attorney will create the necessary documents with your input. They should also provide guidance about how to handle those documents — things like where to keep them and whether to provide copies to others.
What is included in an estate planning package?
Each attorney sets up their own estate planning packages, and each client’s needs will be different. The contents of your estate plan will depend on your age, your marital status, whether you have children, and whether you own a business or other significant assets.
No matter your specific situation, there are a few things that should be included to insure that your assets and your wellbeing are protected.
For instance, Siedentopf Law’s will-based estate planning package includes:
- A will
- A power of attorney
- An advanced directive for healthcare
- A HIPAA authorization
- A designation of standby guardian, if there are minors
Our trust-based estate planning package includes all of the things in a will package. Since the attorney is creating a trust, it also includes the trust documents, a deed transferring any real property into the trust, and any collateral documents that may be needed to complete the trust.
If you’re looking for an estate planning attorney, be sure to ask exactly what their costs include so you know you’re getting a complete package.
Do estate planning attorneys charge for the first meeting?
Traditionally, the first meeting with an estate planning attorney has been very short — often fifteen minutes or less. It’s an opportunity to see if you will work well with the attorney, and you might get a rough estimate of price. You won’t pay for a meeting like this, but you also won’t receive any legal advice. In many law offices these meetings may be with paralegals or intake coordinators. Clients can schedule a 15-minute call with an intake coordinator or paralegal.
Some estate planning attorneys have begun to modernize their processes in recognition of clients’ limited time and resources. These attorneys often offer an initial consultation that is longer — perhaps an hour or more — and requires a small fee. An initial consultation like this might cost anywhere from $100 to $300, depending on the attorney. The fee can often be applied toward a full package of services.
By meeting with clients in a paid consultation, these lawyers gain a deeper understanding of the clients’ needs and are also able to offer initial guidance about the estate planning process. At Siedentopf Law’s initial consultations, we start by explaining the probate process so clients understand the implications of choosing one estate planning mechanism over another — like a will versus a trust.
We explain what irrevocable and revocable trusts are and how they work. We talk about powers of attorney and advanced directives. We talk with clients about their main estate planning goals and come up with a concrete plan to meet those.
By the end of that meeting, clients understand what they need and are able to hit the ground running, whether they continue with that attorney or not.
How do estate planning attorneys charge?
How much your estate plan costs will depend not only on your needs and your attorney’s experience, but also on how they structure their charges.
Hourly charges were the norm for all types of lawyers for a long time, and it’s still the type of charging that’s most frequently represented in television and movies. When a lawyer charges you by the hour, they’re billing you for each minute they spend on your case. Nowadays, most lawyers who bill hourly do so in six or fifteen-minute increments.
This type of billing allows for a more streamlined process when adding up time spent and ensures that clients are billed for the smallest amount of time possible. Compare that to billing for a full hour if the lawyer only spent 30 minutes of their time.
An estate planning lawyer should be able to give you an estimate of how many hours they’ll spend on your case and thus what the total cost will be.
One of the drawbacks to working with an attorney that uses hourly billing is that the final bill can sometimes be a surprise. The attorney may have anticipated spending 20 hours preparing your estate plan and ended up needing to spend 27 hours.
In some legal practices, there has been a shift away from hourly billing to provide greater certainty about pricing to clients. Those lawyers use flat fee pricing.
Flat fee pricing
Flat fee probate attorneys charge exactly as it sounds — with a flat fee. They set a rate for a particular type of package, like setting up a will and the accompanying documents. This fee generally includes all your communication with the attorney (like phone calls, emails, and meetings) as well as all the time they’ll need to complete the documents and make sure you understand them.
Your project rate might vary depending on what the attorney understands about the specifics of your case after doing a consultation. For instance, the project rate for an individual seeking a will would be different from a couple seeking a trust, and still different from a small business owner seeking a trust.
The biggest benefit of a flat fee is certainty. You and the attorney sign a contract agreeing to that rate at the beginning of the project. You know what the final bill is going to be, and you’re not going to be surprised by a number bigger than what you expect.
Estate planning at Siedentopf Law
We want our clients to feel a sense of ease as they move through the estate planning process. We want them to understand what they’re paying for and what they’re getting. That’s why we’ve built our packages and our processes with transparency in mind.
As of April 2021, our initial one-hour consultation is $150. More complex estate planning needs, such as ownership of a business or multiple properties, may cost more. We sign a contract with a fixed price at the beginning, so there are no surprises.
Most of us don’t have money to throw around, especially now. We have to make careful financial decisions and limit spending on things that aren’t necessary.
Estate planning is an investment, and it’s a crucial one.
After all, what’s the cost of not estate planning?
Additional pain and suffering for your loved ones, loss of assets through long probate proceedings, medical or financial decisions made on your behalf but aren’t what you want, your children caught in the middle of conflicts over who should care for them. (Read more here about how to avoid family fights over your estate plan.)
With estate planning comes the peace of mind that you’ve protected yourself and your loved ones, both financially and — to the best of your ability — emotionally.
Contact us. You can call, email, or schedule a consultation directly online, and we’ll help you design an estate plan that’s right for you and your family.
For more information, check out our Basics of Estate Planning video series.