People often call law offices and ask, “what does a will cost?” We are often surprised when we are told that some offices quote fees over the phone. First, it is unethical for anyone other than a
lawyer to quote a fee. Second, in our experience, wills vary drastically from “simple” wills to
“complex” wills – and the differences are determined by individual circumstances and desires.
Our usual response to “what does a will cost?” is to reply “about the same as a
refrigerator.” Just as there is a broad range of refrigerators available (from simple one
cubic foot “dorm” models to built-to-match custom cabinet models), there is a broad
range of complexity involved with wills. Every year we do several truly simple wills. However,
we find that most person’s situations are better suited with supportive features that a simple will does not accomplish.
Generally, a will is not the only document to take into consideration. Rather there are
other documents needed to complete a plan. These include incapacity planning, health
care decision making and coordination of death beneficiary designations on nonprobate
assets, as well as a review of your desires, and whether a will plan achieves your goals.
For example, you can appoint someone to make financial, general welfare and health care
decisions for you in the event of incapacity. This is done through a document called a
power of attorney. It is a relatively straightforward document which usually eliminates the
need for a guardianship. However, its terms are critical. There are some important delegations
of power that may or may not be appropriate for you. And, when considering artificial life
support ,we know that the legislature now requires us to specify in writing our wishes if we do
not wish to have life-sustaining measures applied if we are in a terminal condition. This is done
by signing a health care directive. Other documents (POLST, Five Wishes, Mental Health
Advance Directive, HIPAA releases and VA directive) are available and need consideration as
well as coordination with the statutory directive.
Plans for married persons may also include properly crafted community property agreements
where appropriate. Plans for parents of minor children include limited powers of attorney.
Plan design is vital and should be considered promptly after assessing ones estate, and certainly before committing to a simple will. Trust plans are effective tools for persons with real estate, people with wishes that carry on after their passing, married couples with “truly” taxable estates and for accomplishing ones most ideal planning now. They require more up front effort and maintenance, which is reflected in their ability in a complex situation.
Will plans are good tools for those wishing to keep present life as simple as possible. They may be effective tools also for those with dependant heirs receiving Medicaid long term care or SSI and those with nonprobate assets. Once in place, wills typically “live” without maintenance, although contractual and nonprobate designations must be carefully coordinated and monitored.
Each plan type (will versus trust) has very different costs. Will plans generally cost less up
front, but may involve probate later on. Married couples may find their estates subject to
two or more probates. As probate typically costs between $5,000 and $10,000, its
avoidance needs to be considered. Thus, considering the necessity and/or avoidance of probate is another consideration. Guardianship is another expensive court proceeding that many persons seek to avoid. The first year’s guardianship fees and expenses can amount to as much as $5000. Thus, avoiding guardianship is often a high priority. Most plans bring substantial value to our clients because, through the use of comprehensive powers of attorney and health care planning, clients avoid the expense and publicity of probate and/or guardianship.
To best serve you, after we have reviewed your situation, discussed your wishes and
understand your financial situation, we will quote a package price. Until you meet with
an attorney to review your goals and wishes, we are not able to provide you with a more
accurate quote for services. Single documents may be available, depending on your situation, but generally are not ideal because it takes almost as much time to provide you with one
document as it does to provide several.