How Much Will an Estate Lawyer Cost?
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What Will It Cost to Get My Estate in Order?
There is no "one size fits all" answer to this question. Wills cost one thing, whereas other non-probate instruments and trusts cost another. Fortunately, many estate lawyers specialize in many of these areas. Many individuals assume the lawyer’s bill is the only expense they will incur. The reality is what it will ultimately cost to get an estate in order will depend on several factors in addition to attorney’s fees.
What Factors Cause the Costs of an Estate to Vary?
The primary factors that cause the cost of an estate to vary include:
- Size of the Estate and Types of Assets – Naturally, where there are more assets or particularly valuable assets, the process of divvying up those assets will take more time and more legal fineness. Moreover, it may require hiring the skills of a forensic accountant or other specialist to not only avoid any squabbling down the line, but figure out what to do with assets that are more complicated than a savings account. Additionally, the larger the estate, the more federal estate tax, and potentially a state estate tax, will be.
- Nature of the Family – Everyone has that eccentric uncle they never see. Imagine that wealthy uncle left nearly his entire estate to one person, and imagine it wasn’t his kids. Naturally, they may feel stiffed and try to challenge the will. In doing so, how solid and well drafted his will was is going to determine how it stands up in court. Adding no contest clauses, and ensuring a document is bullet proof takes a highly skilled lawyer, and it doesn’t come for free. Even if everyone gets along, yet the family is large, it will take time and precision to ensure an estate is properly divided under the intent of the testator.
- Attorney’s Fees – Planning an estate with the above considerations in mind requires professional advice. While writing a will or handling an estate without the help of a lawyer may seem like a desirable and affordable option, the cost of probate and estate taxes may ultimately wind up making that "savings" a huge cost to the loved ones that are left behind.
What Goes into Determining a Lawyer's Fees?
With estate lawyers, their cost will be largely determined by their experience and where they are located. One can expect to pay less for a new lawyer in a rural area than a veteran attorney in a major city.
Another big consideration in the overall cost of the lawyer is how they bill, which tends to vary on the overall complexity of the case. Generally, estate lawyers either bill through a flat fee or by the hour. If a lawyer charges a flat fee, it is likely to only handle a less complex matter, such as drafting and executing a simple will or setting up a trust. For a flat fee, expect to pay anywhere between $300-$1,500. With an hourly fee, it is not uncommon for legal bills to quickly get into the $10,000 range, though it may also ultimately wind up being less than a flat fee arrangement. Again, it will depend on the needs of the client.
Why Would an Estate Lawyer Charge an Hourly Fee?
An estate lawyer will likely charge by the hour if the estate is large and complex, or the client will require several services, such as a trust, healthcare directive, and tax planning. Hourly rates will vary greatly, depending on the relative ability of the lawyer. Expect to pay $100-$500 an hour for a lawyer’s time. A lawyer who works on an hourly rate may also require the payment of a retainer. This retainer will cover a certain amount of that lawyer’s time. After the retainer is expended, a standard (or potentially discounted) hourly rate will apply.
Is One Fee Structure Better Than Another?
The best billing structure is ultimately the one that works for the client. Wills, trusts, and estates lawyers understand this, and tend to bill accordingly. Regardless, it is always best to understand what you are paying for. Having a general idea as to what a lawyer may charge is the first step to starting a meaningful conversation with your lawyer about their billing structure, and how it best serves your interest and the interest of your loved ones.
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Last Modified: 06-02-2015 11:30 AM PDT
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