Many people have never had a will before and hopefully will only need one going forward in the future. Most also have no idea how much a will costs, or if they even need a will vs. a trust, etc. A quick Google search may bring up advertisements for “$99 wills” or even free PDF templates from a variety of “legal” websites.
Why You Should Avoid Online and Template Wills
Sadly, having a one-size-fits-all will usually ends in disaster for a person’s loved ones and especially for their executor. There are many legal nuances in trusts and estates law, regardless of the state. Add to that the fact that every state is unique with their own specialized requirements.
For instance, the Washington, D.C. Code has over 1,000 sections on wills and estates alone! Virginia – even more. What you may think you’re directing through your online will may very well be contrary to the law of the state and may result in a void bequest or, worse yet, a void will. California and Louisiana are the most radically different states although even Virginia, Maryland and D.C. differ from one another in significant respects.
Online template wills or wills created by an online service often fail to address significant issues that arise in probate or actually run afoul of existing law – all leading to expensive litigation during the probate process in which only the estate litigation attorney wins (who, as is customary, bills their time and expenses to the estate).
Why You Should Avoid the Cheapest Attorneys
Although not as bad as online or template wills, attorneys who advertise wills beginning at $99 are chock full of hazards as well. The most common one is the bait and switch – they get you to commit by filling out intake forms, perhaps putting down a $99 deposit and then they convince you that your estate plan is more complex than the average $99 will and bill you something much higher.
However, even if you aren’t a victim of the bait and switch, then the next pitfall is getting exactly what you’re paying for. Most licensed attorneys in the D.C. area have an hourly rate, usually starting around $200 for newly licensed lawyers (much much more for the large corporate firms where it is not uncommon for an “associate” to bill at a rate of over $600/hour).
This is even true of cut-rate estate planning attorneys. So if you pay $99 for a simple will, you are likely to receive an extremely simple document, not at all catered to your or your family’s unique needs, situation and/or assets and only one step up from an online template will (but slightly more expensive). These estate planning attorneys make their money from quantity, not necessarily quality.
How Much How Much Does A Will Cost from a Qualified Estate Planning Attorney?
There is no one answer to this. Like anything else, you should do your research, contact the attorney in question and see if you get a good feeling from them. Did they answer your questions knowledgeably and thoughtfully? Did they take their time in discussing your estate situation with you or did they talk over you the entire time? Did they give you a “hard sell” or did they seem reasonable to work with?
A good estate planning attorney is going to give you an estimate based on your specific situation and general estate planning desires following an initial consultation. If you are married with kids without complicated assets, the attorney should be able to give you a quick quote that reflects their time considering your assets and bequests.
If you are remarried with kids from a previous marriage and/or you have more complicated assets (i.e., multiple properties potentially out of state), the attorney is likely give you a higher quote because they will need to take the time to analyze your assets and desired bequests to make sure your estate passes exactly as you wish it to without incurring unnecessary or excess taxes.
Should You Pay a Consultation Fee?
Many firms will charge you an initial consultation fee for estate planning. This is not out of the ordinary and is sometimes used to filter out people who are not serious about retaining an attorney to prepare their testamentary documents. However, keep in mind that your estate plan may not be terribly complicated when factoring in a hefty consultation fee.
Trust & Estate Lawyer Alexandria, VA
On the other hand, many firms, including King, Campbell, Poretz & Mitchell, PLLC, charge no consultation fee. This way, if you think you need a will or trust or simply need to ascertain how much it may cost before committing to putting any money down, you can call us for a free consultation (in person, by phone or video-conference). After getting to know you and your situation and answering your questions, we should have a clearer picture and be able to provide you with a pretty accurate quote.
Remember, when it comes to consulting with someone on how best to protect your loved ones when you’re gone – you get what you pay for!