Many people call and ask us how to get started with their planning.
Sometimes, the best advice I can give, is to tell someone what they should NOT do, as opposed to telling them what they should do.
So, how should you NOT get started?
DON'T ask this question:
How Much Do You Charge for a Will or Trust?
A good lawyer cannot answer that question without talking with you first. A lawyer that does answer that question, without knowing anything about you, is not doing you any favors.
I’m sorry, but it’s true. If you call a lawyer, ask “how much is a Will”, and they tell you a price, without knowing anything about you, then they are offering you a standard “canned” solution. That Will is not a custom-tailored, detailed plan, which is what we offer at our firm.
It's not wrong to want to know the price of planning, because it is a normal part of the process, and you shouldn’t have to be surprised with the pricing after your plan is done. However, cost should not be the primary deciding factor on your planning, and it’s not something your lawyer should even be able to answer at your first call. Without knowing anything about you, a lawyer cannot provide you with the best Will, Trust, or Estate Plan.
Plans range in price because plans range in type! A plan for a younger family is vastly different from a plan for seniors. It is vastly different for a business owner, or someone who is on a second or third marriage, with children from prior marriages, or someone who is single. All of these factors should drastically change the type of plan you need and there a million other factors that can change the plan, and ultimately, the pricing. Our pricing results from the plan that works for you, and only you. Every person is different, therefore every Estate Plan, Will, and Trust is different. If a lawyer gives you a price, without finding out anything about you, call someone else.
How do I find out what my deciding factors are?
Meeting with an attorney who specializes in estate planning, as we do at Monteforte Law, would be the first step. The problem is that "you don't know what you don't know!" You may think you only need a simple will, and maybe you're right, but unless you've been trained to know the right questions to ask, you won't know for sure, and risk doing major damage to your families in the process. Your attorney should know what factors to consider, and should help you feel more at ease and more educated!
We get a lot of clients who call and explain that they have a simple Will, but years went by and they realized that their lives changed. Their simple Will might just make things more complicated (and more expensive, in the form of estate taxes and other expenses). We spend a lot of our time fixing Simple Wills. (Read more about the Dangers of the Simple Will, HERE) If these clients' Wills had already been more personalized, they would have saved themselves thousands of dollars, and a lot of headaches.
If asking “How Much?” is not the right question, then what is the right question?
One of the greatest thinkers of all time, Albert Einstein, once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” Well that’s what an experienced attorney does for you – helps you to know what questions to ask, and then answers them.
Here are several good questions to start with:
- What do I need to have in place to protect my family and my assets?
- What type of estate plan will make things the easiest on my family after I am gone?
- How do I protect my legacy and my family’s inheritance?
- How do I pass on my wealth, while giving away as little as possible to taxes and long-term care to nursing homes?
-What do I need to do to make sure my child’s spouse doesn’t end up with my money?
-How do I make sure that my family, and my legacy, are protected the way I want?
-How do I protect the money and home equity I have spent a lifetime saving?
If you care about your family, don’t leave them with a big mess to clean up.
And that’s exactly what happens when you use cheap online documents or forms from a book. If you do that you (1) have no idea what’s even in those documents, because you haven’t been trained to spot the mistakes or have a real understanding of the potential outcomes, and (2) you won’t know what’s missing from those forms, and the consequences it will have.
It’s not just important to know what’s there, it’s also important to know what’s missing. That’s why you need guidance and advice. I don’t tell my plumber how to fix the pipes – I trust his/her expertise, to do it right and not leave me with a flood. But I don’t expect them to tell me how to draft a proper Estate Plan. If you haven’t been trained to write estate plan documents, how do you know what you need? And what you don’t need? That’s where we come in.
Plans that are not done properly lead to major problems. These problems include:
- Lengthy and Expensive Probate
- Time-Consuming and Expensive Court Proceedings
- Estate Tax Issues
- Absolute Nightmare for your Beneficiaries.
You can save yourself from these headaches, and lots of money in court and attorney fees, by doing it right the first time.
What you have to remember is that you’re not buying documents, as if selecting them from a restaurant menu. “I’d like to order a Will, with a side of Health Care Proxy, and hold the Trusts”.
We put together estate plans that have an overall cost based on the time needed to create the plan, as well as the level of expertise needed to create it. It's important to note you're getting more than just the plans themselves. You're also “buying” our guidance and advice for yourself, and your loved ones.
I put my heart and soul into my work, to not only deliver the best products, but to be a part of your team, for life. We are your partners. We help you prepare for the worst, but also provide aid and guidance to you, your family, and your loved ones.
So, when you call us and ask, “How much for a Will or a Trust?” we can’t answer the question until we’ve talked with you. We can’t answer it because we don’t know what you need and what your goals are.
What are your concerns? Are you worried about long-term care? Or estate taxes? Or your children? All of those factor into finding the best plan for you. Until we have those questions answered as part of our intake process, we can’t answer the “How Much?” question.
If we quoted you for a Will, and then during our meeting we found out you have other issues (life insurance, real-estate, extended family, vacation homes, long-term care concerns), then the actual price would be higher than the original quote, and you would be upset. However, if I told you that by paying an extra $1,000, you could save $80,000 in estate taxes, wouldn’t you do it? That’s why we can’t price things out until we know more from you. Once we meet, you will get a custom-made set of recommendations, that includes all pricing. Our pricing is done at flat-rates, so that our clients don't have to worry about their bill going up every time they call or email with a question.
Our process begins with a Strategic Planning Session. Before this Session, you will receive Mike’s book on Estate Planning and Elder Law. You will also receive our online intake form that you can complete from home. This will help you, and us, make the most of your time during your session, because Attorney Monteforte gets a look at your numbers before the session, and doesn't have to waste your time during the meeting asking those basic questions.
Attorney Monteforte will review your intake form, as well as any existing estate planning documents, before your session. That way he is fully prepared, and can make your time together as productive as possible. Then we can talk about you, your family, your goals, and your legacy. Our informative materials will educate you, so that you can make the best decision.
After our 1 hour session, we will offer you customized recommendations that help you meet your goals, protect your family, your legacy, your children’s inheritance, and save some money in taxes at the same time. We might also help you protect assets from long-term care costs, if that is one of your goals!
Are you still looking for a ballpark number?
Most of our plans range from $1,700 to $6,500, depending on your situation. If you have more assets, or own a business, you might be on the higher end of that spectrum. If you are a single person with or without children, and not a lot of assets, you might be on the lower end. Your plan is tailor-made to suit your needs and goals. And while we recommend certain options to you, the choice of which option to choose is left to you and you alone.
What other factors should you consider when hiring a lawyer?
- How long has your lawyer been in practice?
- Does he/she offer education materials at no cost?
- Has he/she ever been published?
- Is he/she active and giving back to the community?
- Why did he/she become an estate and elder law attorney in the first place?
Any good lawyer should be able to answer those questions for you.
Lastly, an estate planning lawyer relationship should not be transaction-based. Your lawyer shouldn’t hand you your documents, never to talk again. Frequent contact is necessary, at least annually.
You can also download Michael's book, Planning Ahead on Estate Planning and Elder Law here, and order a hard copy as well, at no cost.
This info will help you make the best decision for yourself and your family.