Understanding Wills and Trusts: What to Expect and How to Choose a Lawyer


Creating a will and establishing a trust are essential steps in estate planning. The costs involved depend on various factors, such as your location and the complexity of your family and financial situation. Hiring a knowledgeable lawyer to assist you with these legal documents may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

How Lawyers Determine Their Fees

Estate planning lawyers employ different fee structures, providing you with options. It is important to discuss your preferences with the lawyer you choose.

Flat Fees

When it comes to wills and basic estate planning documents, many lawyers charge a flat fee. The price for a lawyer-drafted will typically starts at around $300. However, it is more common to see fees ranging from $1,000 to $1,200.

Lawyers find flat fees advantageous for several reasons. They can utilize pre-written forms and standard clauses tailored to different situations, reducing the time needed to assemble your document. With a flat fee, the lawyer can also charge for their expertise and experience without the need to meticulously track time spent on your case.

Furthermore, a flat fee arrangement cultivates a relaxed attorney-client relationship. It encourages open communication, ensuring you feel comfortable reaching out to your lawyer with any questions or concerns. This arrangement allows the attorney to dedicate the necessary time to understand your needs and explain everything to you without the constant pressure of billing.

Nevertheless, not all clients are billed the same flat fee. Each case is unique, and a conscientious lawyer will assess your situation and discuss their fees with you personally. You won’t find a list of set prices on a lawyer’s website as it is impossible to determine the cost without understanding your individual circumstances.

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Hourly Billing

Some estate planning lawyers charge clients by the hour. The hourly rate depends on factors such as the lawyer’s experience, training, and the location of their practice. In smaller towns, you might find hourly rates as low as $150, while rates below $200 are uncommon in larger cities. It is worth noting that lawyers in large firms generally charge higher rates than sole practitioners or small firms—except when the smaller firm consists of specialists in complex estate planning and tax matters. Although a lawyer specializing exclusively in estate planning may have higher fees compared to a general practitioner, they are likely to possess superior knowledge and efficiency.

If less experienced lawyers or legal assistants work on your case, their time is billed at a lower hourly rate.

Most lawyers track their time in six-minute increments (one-tenth of an hour). This translates to a minimum billing increment of six minutes, even if a phone call or task takes less time.

Estate Planning Packages: Beyond a Will

In addition to a will, estate planning often involves the creation of other important legal documents. These may include:

  • Durable power of attorney for finances
  • Advance directive (durable power of attorney for health care and living will, which may be combined into one document depending on state law)

Lawyers often recommend these additional documents, as they provide crucial protections. Durable powers of attorney designate someone to act on your behalf in financial and healthcare matters if you become incapacitated due to an unexpected illness or accident. While these documents are not overly complex, their preparation may add a few hundred dollars to your bill. Some states even provide their own forms for the advance directive.

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In certain cases, lawyers may also suggest the establishment of a living trust. A living trust allows your family to avoid the time and expenses associated with probate court proceedings following your death. However, it is important to note that not everyone needs a living trust. Factors such as your location, how you own your assets, and your age play a role in determining its necessity. For instance, if you own everything jointly with your spouse or are relatively young, a living trust may not be essential.

Compared to a will, lawyers generally charge significantly more for creating a living trust. However, a simple living trust is a relatively standard document, much like a will. Prices for a trust typically range from $1,200 to $1,500.

It is crucial to be aware that after signing your will, your work is done. In contrast, after establishing a living trust, you must transfer the title of assets you want to include in the trust. You should clarify with your lawyer whether their fee covers this crucial step, known as funding the trust. If not, it becomes your responsibility to complete this task.

Alternative Options: Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker & Trust

If you prefer to avoid legal fees or are unable to afford an attorney, you can consider using Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker & Trust. This software allows you to create a customized and comprehensive estate plan for your entire family.

For expert legal guidance and a personalized approach to wills, trusts, and estate planning, visit Garrity Traina.