Qualified Estate Planning Attorneys
Just as trying to find a qualified financial advisor is important, finding and choosing an estate planning attorney is equally important. Try to get referrals from friends. If you have used an attorney for previous activities, they can also give you referrals to a good estate planning attorney. It's important to vet those attorneys and meeting in person for 15 minutes can give you a feel for whether you like them. In estate planning, it is important that you have a good relationship since it is such a personal experience.
Estate planning lawyers don't all charge the same way. You may want to ask up front if you're more comfortable with one or another. It's very common for a lawyer to charge a flat fee to write a will and other basic estate planning documents. The low end for a simple lawyer-drafted will is around $300. A price closer to $1,000 is more common, and it's not unusual to find a $1,200+ price tag.
Lawyers like flat fees for several reasons. First, they can use forms that they've already written - most estate planning lawyers have a set of standard clauses that they have written for different situations, which they assemble into a will that fits a new client's wishes. It won't take a lawyer much time to put your document together, but with a flat fee, the lawyer can charge for his or her expertise and experience. A flat fee means they don't have to keep detailed records of how they spend their time either.
Some lawyers feel that a flat fee arrangement lets everyone relax and makes for better attorney-client relationships. You won't feel reluctant to call or email with a question, and the lawyer can take the time necessary to listen to your concerns and explain things to you without feeling like the meter is running.
That said, lawyers don't charge all their clients the same flat fee. You'll have to talk to a lawyer to find out what the cost will be for you -- don't expect to find a list of prices on the lawyer's website. A conscientious lawyer does this not to hide the ball, but because it's impossible to know what you need without a conversation about your situations and wishes. A good lawyer will talk to you (on the phone or in person) before quoting you a price.
Some estate planning lawyers bill clients by the hour. The hourly rate will depend primarily on the lawyer's experience and training, and where you live. You may see rates from $150 to $200/hour. Lawyers in big firms generally charge higher rates than sole practitioners or small firms, unless a small firm is made up of lawyers who specialize in sophisticated estate planning and tax matters.
A lawyer who does nothing but estate planning will probably charge more than a general practitioner, but should also be more knowledgeable and efficient. Many lawyers keep track of their time in six-minute increments (one-tenth of an hour). That means you'll never be billed for less than six minutes of the lawyer's time, even if the lawyer spends just two minutes on the phone with you.
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