Estate planning is an extensive and sometimes intimidating legal field. While you likely want to ensure that your estate ends up benefiting your loved ones, doing so can be a lengthy and tedious process. For that reason, many people choose to enlist the aid of an estate planning attorney.
Legal counsel can be costly; however, an experienced estate planning attorney can protect your assets from probate fees, legal challenges, and other hurdles. On this page, you will find an explanation of some of the different ways that a lawyer can assist you with your estate plan and how much you may want to set aside for legal fees.
Do I Need an Estate Planning Attorney?
You are not legally required to work with an estate planning attorney in order for your wishes to be legally valid. However, ensuring the future of your estate is a complicated process. Rather than simply stating your wishes in a will, you will likely have to prepare several different legal documents for different types of assets. An estate planning attorney will let you know exactly which documents you need to prepare and help you draft them, saving you time and ensuring that they are free of mistakes.
Estate planning documents must meet several standards to be enforceable. For example, your state likely provides a minimum number of witnesses that must be present for the signing of a will for it to be executable. These witnesses usually cannot be anyone who is named in the will. Someone drafting a will on their own might overlook these details, but an estate planning lawyer would make sure that your paperwork meets all the required standards.
An estate planning attorney can also help you avoid probate. When a person passes away, probate courts use money from their estate to cover legal fees. This means that the more of your estate that goes through probate, the less your loved ones will inherit. An experienced lawyer can help you ensure that your estate is distributed correctly with as little court involvement as possible.
Estate Planning Lawyer Costs: What to Expect
If your lawyer expects your estate planning process to be fairly straightforward, they may charge you a flat fee for a list of specific services. Some attorneys will offer different flat fee packages for different services. For example, someone who wishes to have a lawyer help them draft a will may only need a basic package, while someone whose estate is relatively diversified may opt for a more expensive package that includes help designating the beneficiaries of revocable living trusts and insurance plans.
If your estate is exceptionally complicated and requires extensive work, your attorney may charge an hourly fee instead. These fees vary, but you can expect to pay in the area of $250 to $300 per hour.
As a rule of thumb, someone with a higher net worth, distributed across a wider variety of assets, can expect to pay more for the legal services necessary to make sure that those assets end up in the right hands. Keep in mind that the costs of these services will also differ significantly based on the lawyer’s location and experience.
Last Will and Testament
For your will to be executable, it must adhere to all the legal standards set by your state. Your estate planning lawyer will ensure that your will is free of any errors or omissions that might invalidate it. They will also help you make decisions about distributing your assets, naming a personal representative, designating witnesses, and any other important provisions.
Drafting a will is one of the most basic components of estate planning, and nearly every estate planning package will include it. Fees will vary significantly, and you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $1,000 for the service.
A living will, sometimes called a “directive to physicians,” is a document outlining your preferences for medical treatment. This document is executable when you cannot make those decisions for yourself; for example, if you become comatose or suffer cognitive impairment.
An important function of a living will is to state the circumstances under which you would and would not prefer to remain on life support. For example, someone may state in their living will that they would not like to be put on a feeding tube if they are ever in a vegetative state.
Attorneys often include a living will as part of an overall estate planning package. Otherwise, you might pay anywhere from $250 to $750 to have a lawyer draft one for you.
Medical Power of Attorney
Granting someone power of attorney gives them the ability to make important legal, financial, and medical decisions for you in case you become unable to make them yourself. Power of attorney is often divided into financial and medical fields, requiring different documentation.
A medical power of attorney entitles another party, known as the “agent,” to make decisions regarding your medical treatment if you cannot do so yourself. Your agent may be in charge of life support, hospice care, and hospital visitation decisions. It is important to name a trusted friend or relative as your agent to ensure that any medical decisions outside of your control will still be made according to your wishes.
A document granting power of attorney is referred to as a power of attorney (POA). You can expect to pay a lawyer around $200 to $300 to draft a POA for you.
Financial Power of Attorney
Financial power of attorney grants someone the right to control your finances if you are unable to do so. An agent with financial power of attorney will be in charge of handling your bills, your taxes, and other financial matters if you become incapacitated. You can grant the same agent financial and medical power of attorney, but you will have to prepare separate documents to do so.
Your attorney will likely advise you to prepare both medical and financial POAs. As with a medical POA, legal fees for a financial POA can come to around $200 to $300. Many estate planning lawyers offer both types of POA as part of a larger package that also includes the drafting of a will.
Like wills, living trusts allow you to designate specific beneficiaries for your various assets. However, living trusts also offer several benefits that wills do not. For example, living trusts are not subject to probate. Since probate is usually paid for by the estate, avoiding it means that your beneficiaries will inherit more.
Living trusts are generally more intricate than wills and may result in higher costs. You can expect to pay around $1,500 or more.
Some assets, such as insurance policies and retirement plans, require more than a will or a trust to be distributed after passing. A beneficiary designation is a document notifying the companies holding these assets that you intend for the named beneficiaries to inherit them. Beneficiary designations also allow you to distribute these assets without probate, which can incur an additional cost.
Many estate planning attorneys offer beneficiary designations as part of a package that will also include help with a will and/or a revocable living trust.
Estate Planning Resources
While professional legal assistance will be a major benefit to your estate plan, you can take some steps on your own before consulting an attorney. The resources below will help demystify probate law and estate planning procedures and give you some tools to begin organizing your estate.
American Bar Association
Estate planning involves several obscure legal terms and processes, which can seem overwhelmingly complicated. The American Bar Association’s website provides an estate planning help page that explains the ins and outs of the field in straightforward and easy-to-understand language.
On their site, you can find detailed information on the different types of forms and documents involved in estate planning and what the probate process entails. They also offer breakdowns of how non-probate property and communal property are distributed.
AARP Personal Estate Planning Course Record Book
When meeting with an estate planning lawyer for the first time, they will likely ask to review your various assets and intended beneficiaries, along with other personal information. The AARP offers a digital planner to help you prepare this information in one easy-to-reference document.
This 24-page document will let you keep your personal information related to your estate all in one place. It contains sections for your and your family’s contact information, the value of your estates, any wills and/or trusts, and your burial and funeral preferences.
You can either fill out this record book in your internet browser, save it to your computer, or print it out.
If you are interested in exploring estate planning without the assistance of an attorney, you may want to look into a service such as Wealth.com. Wealth.com offers packages of customizable templates for drafting a will, a revocable trust, and designating a guardian for your children.
Services such as these will not be as tailored to your individual needs as an attorney will be. However, they offer you a lower-cost way to consider the different options for your estate before you decide to hire a lawyer.
Step into the world of Expertise.com, your go-to hub for credible insights. We don't take accuracy lightly around here. Our squad of expert reviewers, each a maestro in their field, has given the green light to every single article you'll find. From rigorous fact-checking to meticulous evaluations of service providers, we've got it all covered. So feel free to dive in and explore. The information you'll uncover has been stamped with the seal of approval by our top-notch experts.