The call probably comes in once or more a week:
Hi. I need to get a Will set up. How much does that cost?
It’s a fair question. Clients deserve an expectation of the cost of service before going too far down the road with an estate planning attorney. Some callers are just shopping for the lowest price, which is unwise in such an intimate and complex area of law as estate planning. Others generally need to know if they can afford to work with a professional. Usually to the caller’s chagrin, the answer is always the same:
I know how frustrating that answer is. Really, I do. But hear me out. Until I can spend some time with you and talk about your specific situation, it would be irresponsible for me to guess on the cost. Imagine if you did that with your doctor:
Hi. My stomach hurts. Can you tell me what’s wrong and how much will it cost to fix me?
Is it cancer? Appendicitis? A stab wound? The doctor has no way of knowing until she can check you out. The same goes for your estate planning attorney. We are practitioners and need to diagnose your situation. (By the way, this is why we offer free 30-minute consultations 😊)
Sometimes a client needs more than they think they do. Sometimes they actually need less. Let me give you two hypotheticals to illustrate. First, the caller above. According to him he needs to “get a Will set up” and wants to know the cost. At the appointment we discover a few things: (1) he has no estate planning currently in place; (2) he’s 59; (3) he has a house in Texas and a fishing cabin in Oklahoma; and (4) he’s taking care of his mom who is 82 and was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. This caller is probably not a good candidate for a Will. At least not JUST a Will, and here’s why.
- He’s Headed for Multiple Probates. Owning property in two different states makes it likely that his estate will spend time and money in both Texas probate court for his Texas property and Oklahoma probate court for his Oklahoma cabin. Centralizing management of his property into a revocable trust may be a WAY better move for this caller as opposed to just drafting a Will.
- He’s Vulnerable to Disability. Alzheimer’s is in his family on mom’s side, so he needs to plan for the possibility of he himself being diagnosed down the road. Even without a genetic risk of Alzheimer’s, he needs disability planning documents. Does he have long term care? Maybe. Maybe not. We won’t know until talk a little more. If not, his age may disqualify him from long term coverage or make it REALLY expensive. So, if he has to rely on Medicaid down the road . . .
- Time is Running Out. Medicaid qualification starts at 65 and is based on financial resources. If caller owns or earns too much, he’s out. Our caller is about to turn 60. Medicaid has a five-year “lookback” window where assets need to be spent or removed from caller’s pocket at least five years before applying, otherwise they will be counted among caller’s resources. If this caller is going to use trust planning for a future Medicaid needs, he needs to start now.
Do you see my point? This caller has issues in his life he may not have even known were issues until he met with a professional trained in the estate planning disciplines. All these facts impact the level of professional service, which obviously impacts the cost.
Now, consider a second hypothetical caller:
Hi. My neighbor just set up a trust and told me I need to get one. How much does that cost?
After meeting with the caller, we discover that his most significant asset is a home that he and his wife have owned together for 40 years. His neighbor set up a trust because his brother in Florida recommended it as a way of “avoiding probate”.
What this caller doesn’t know if that the probate laws in Florida are WAY different than the probate laws in Texas. As a Texan, this caller can likely do his estate planning faster and cheaper than he thought. Again, had he not met with a professional, he might have never known what his options were.
The costs varies because estate planning is not a “one-size fits all” endeavor. Side note: Studies show that only four percent of people cite cost as a reason they don’t engage in estate planning. Plus, a good service professional should be able to provide you with flexible payment terms if cost does become an issue.
Bottom line: The cost of estate planning depends but is rarely the obstacle that keeps clients from taking action. Go meet with an estate planner and get a professional assessment of your needs. If they’re competent and trustworthy, the ends – whatever they are – will likely justify the means.