The cost of getting an estate in order really depends on a variety of factors. Things like the type of estate planning used, the size of your assets, how complex the estate is, and the attorney’s skill and experience. There may also be extra costs depending on other costs, like probate court costs and filing fees.
Often there are other fees regarding estates in addition to the lawyer’s fee—the administrative costs and court costs will also factor into the cost of managing the estate.
What Causes the Costs of an Estate to Vary?
There are several different factors that can cause the costs of an estate to vary, so be prepared to discuss these when you consult an estate planning attorney. The most common reasons for an estate to vary in cost are: size of the state and type of assets; any struggles or disagreements in the family; and overall cost of the attorney fees.
Size of the Estate and Types of Assets
If you have more assets or particularly valuable assets, the process of dividing these assets will take more time and legal work on the part of the attorney. You should be ready to discuss the nature of your assets with the attorney so that they can properly advise you on the best way to proceed.
They may recommend hiring a forensic accountant or other specialist to properly evaluate the assets. If you have a larger estate, you will also need to discuss state and federal tax issues, which can be pretty significant when it comes to planning the distribution of the estate.
Nature of the Family and Any Family Disagreements
Many times family members may disagree about the handling of the estate of a deceased family member, and these disagreements can be very emotionally charged. Often things can get very contentious if the family members disagree on how the assets are distributed, and may choose to contest it in court.
Even if all the family gets along, the process of dividing the estate properly can take time and care. An experienced estate lawyer can draft carefully worded documents to leave as little to chance as possible. Having clearly worded documents put together now can help cut down on the potential of legal conflict later on.
The Overall Cost of Attorney’s Fees
Planning an estate is easier and more successful with professional advice. While you may be tempted to try to write your own will or set up your estate on your own, it is highly advisable to consult an attorney who can give you proper advice regarding the cost of probate and the tax consequences.
How Do Lawyers Determine The Cost of Their Fees?
There are many factors that determine how much an attorney will charge. The attorney’s experience and location may be factors. The complexity of the work that is requested or required for the case will also affect how the attorney’s fee is determined. Generally, the more complex the work that is needed, the more substantial the fee.
Attorneys Can Accept Flat Fees
Estate lawyers will often either bill by a flat fee or an hourly rate. Flat fees are more commonly used in simple matters, where the work is less complicated. Drafting and executing a will or setting up a trust may be simple matters that can be billed by a flat fee. Flat fees can come into play if your estate has common issues that most people face, and they lawyer can use forms that they’ve already written, adapting them to your needs.
Most estate planning lawyers have a set of standard clauses that they can use in different situations and assemble into a will or trust that fits the client’s needs. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time for the lawyer to put the new document together, but you are still paying for the lawyer’s time, expertise, and experience. A flat fee means that the lawyer doesn’t have to keep highly detailed records of how they spend their time working on your file.
Some lawyers feel that the flat fee arrangement can be more comfortable for their clients, who may be hesitant to call and ask questions if they think that the meter is running under an hourly fee. However, not every client working with a flat fee structure will pay the exact same fee.
Usually, the lawyer will not know exactly what kind of work you need until you have had a conversation about your situation and what outcome you desire, so it’s impossible to quote a fair rate until they know exactly what you need.
A good lawyer will talk to you first before quoting you a price. The amount of the flat fee will vary depending on location and the attorney’s experience, but you should expect to pay a minimum of $150-$600.
Attorneys Commonly Charge Hourly Rates
With an hourly fee, the attorney will charge a set amount for each hour of work that is completed on the file. This is a more common arrangement when the issues facing the estate are more complicated. The legal bills will depend on exactly how much work is needed, but you could see fees as much as over $10,000 or as little as the costs of the flat fee arrangement.
Why Would an Estate Lawyer Charge an Hourly Fee?
If the estate is large and complex, the lawyer will likely charge an hourly fee instead of a flat fee. An hourly rate will likely be used if the client requires multiple documents and services for the estate, such as a will, a trust, advanced healthcare directive, tax planning, and other services.
Again, the ultimate fee depends on the needs of the client and the work that the estate requires, as well as they attorney’s experience. Lawyers in big firms may charge higher rates than solo practitioners or small firms, unless the small firm specializes in complex estate matters.
A lawyer who specializes in estate planning will likely charge more than a general practitioner, but they will also be more knowledgeable in the field and more efficient (because estate planning is all they do). If your lawyer employs less experienced attorneys (associates) or legal assistants and paralegals, their time will be billed at a lower hourly rate.
Which Fee Structure is Best?
Ultimately, the best fee structure is the one that works best for the client. Lawyers understand this and tend to bill accordingly. It is worth having a discussion with your lawyer regarding the fees for the estate so that you understand exactly what to expect. It is also a good idea to understand exactly what services you are paying for and what work needs to be done.
How Can I Find an Estate Planning Lawyer?
Often, people will seek an estate planning lawyer too late in life. Most people don’t anticipate ever needing one, but just like you have health insurance in case you get sick, you want to have a will and affairs in order in the event of an untimely death.
In order to be prepared and to minimize any further strain on your loved ones, contact a local estate planning lawyer today to start taking the steps to secure your (and their) future.