We are frequently asked “How much do you charge for a Simple Will?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Asking a lawyer this question is similar to calling your medical doctor and asking “how much will you charge me for making the pain in my side go away?” Obviously, your doctor would not be able to give you a reasonable reply without first giving you a thorough examination, and obtaining a history of your prior injuries, illnesses or activities.
As lawyers, and professionals, we do not sell forms or products. We provide advice, counsel and services. These services include the preparation of legal documents, such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney customized to fit the unique needs of each client. Counseling is not just about the law. Counseling is also about numerous other matters, some of which may be more important to our clients and our clients’ families than the actual legal questions.
A “simple will” may be exactly what you need. However, it is more likely that is exactly what you do not need. A “simple will” with the provisions requested by a client sometimes can produce very poor results. You cannot know what kind of will is appropriate for you without obtaining receiving advice from a competent attorney, experienced in estate planning matters, who has taken the time to become acquainted with your desires and goals, the assets that will be controlled by your will, facts about your beneficiaries, the desirability of tax planning, and a host of other factors.
For example, you may ask for a simple will leaving your estate to your spouse, or equally to your children if your spouse dies before you do. Is this a good plan? It would seem so, but what if your spouse is mentally or physically unable to manage his or her affairs at the time of your death? What if your spouse suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or alcoholism; has incurred serious liabilities; or is in a nursing home? What if your spouse is a spendthrift or is likely to remarry and leave a substantial part, if not all, of your assets to a new spouse?
What if one of your children is a user of illegal drugs, an alcoholic, mentally, emotionally or physically handicapped, or is too young or immature, to manage your hard work and savings?
What if one of your children has a serious illness, or marries someone you dislike? What if one of your children dies before you do? What if one of your children has lawsuits pending, large outstanding debts, tax liens, a failing business or may be facing divorce? Or what if you or your spouse has children from a prior marriage and you want to be certain that specific property is inherited by specific children?
What if you have, now or in the future, physical or mental problems, dementia, long term illness, substantial increase or decrease in assets, income or expenses?
What if, what if, what if…
If any attorney prepared a will or trust for you without taking into consideration these and many other matters, he or she would be doing a disservice to you and your loved ones. You have spent a lifetime saving and acquiring your assets. When you die 100% of these assets will pass to other people; some may pass to your loved ones, and some may pass to the government in the form of taxes. Therefore, you need to adequately and intelligently plan.
For us to accurately answer this question we must consider not only the actual cost of the preparation of the document, but the “costs” that may arise from your particular situation. Some of the unintended costs that may arise without proper planning are:
There are other factors to consider as well. The ownership of assets in joint tenancy with right of survivorship provides that your assets will pass automatically to the surviving joint owner. Your will or trust will not apply to such joint assets if one of the joint owners outlives you. Your will probably does not (and usually should not) control the benefits of your IRA, 401k, or other qualified retirement plans. Your will also has no control over life insurance payable to a named beneficiary.
For these and many other reasons you should not be concerned with the “actual cost” of having a will prepared. You should be concerned with the overall cost of relying on a will which did not take into consideration all of the items that are, or should be, important to you, many of which are mentioned above. You should also be concerned with doing the best possible planning for yourself and your loved ones. A qualified, caring estate-planning lawyer who takes the time to talk with you and gives you counsel and advice about your legal concerns, including the advantages or disadvantages of using a will or trust, saves you and your family much more than the fees for professional services.
So back to the original question of how much do we charge for a “Simple Will”? The answer is a reasonable fee based on the level of services you and your circumstances require. Usually when the client fully understands the planning process and legal tools utilized, he or she recognizes that more than just a simple will is needed.
Before we draft a will or trust for you, we need to know all of your desires, your goals, your beneficiaries, your contingent beneficiaries, your assets, how your assets are owned, and many other facts that may relate to helping you and your loved ones achieve the peace of mind that comes from good estate planning. The estate planning attorneys at Midgett, Preti & Olansen offer a reasonably priced consultation for anyone interested in estate planning.
This gives us the opportunity to discuss with you all of the important factors in achieving your estate planning goals. At the end of our consultation, after we have listened to your concerns and wishes, and taken into account the important factors that may affect your estate plan, we will be able to tell you exactly what fee would be required to deliver the level of professional service you, and your family, deserve and expect from our firm.