How to Determine Whether Estate Planning Attorney Fees Are Reasonable

Is your lawyer overcharging you?

Local and statewide business practices can have an impact on how much an estate planning attorney charges for handling a specific matter, but her level of experience also plays a role. So, how do you evaluate that experience, and how do you know if you're being overcharged? It can be useful in understanding the general rules and the fee-setting process.

Your First Meeting

The majority of estate planning attorneys do not charge a fee for the initial consultation, but this is not a universal rule. Don't be surprised if the attorney charges a small fee for the initial consultation. It has the potential to go either way. An estate planning attorney is in business to make a living, and the time he spends with you detracts from billable hours he could be spending on other clients' matters. However, this is also his opportunity to "sell" you on using his services and to learn more about your case. This is when he decides how many hours he and his staff will have to devote to resolving your issue...and whether or not he wants to take on your case. Many attorneys understand the importance of a first meeting and do not charge for it.

The Estate Planning Flat Fee

If you choose to hire the attorney's services, a fixed fee usually covers the initial consultation as well as the creation of necessary documents, their review, and signing. If you choose to use a flat fee estate planning attorney, some of them will include assistance and support with funding your living trust in their services. In contrast, others will charge a separate funding fee based on the value of the property you'll be transferring into the ownership of your trust. The only sensible solution would be for the attorney to bill you on an hourly basis. The drawback of this technique is that it leaves you with a great deal of uncertainty about the final total cost. You can prevent this by asking your attorney to charge you a flat fee for all of the services she will provide you. Just be expected to move on and interview other attorneys if she declines.

Hourly Rates

A flat fee is a combination of the attorney's standard hourly rate and the number of hours he believes he'll need to invest in your case to resolve it. Inquire about the hourly rate and how much you'll be made to pay for the services of other attorneys and paralegals at the firm. This will give you a rough idea of the time the lawyer expects the firm to spend on your estate plan. If he offers you a $5,000 flat fee and bills his time at $200 per hour, he and his firm expect to work on your case for 20 to 25 hours. The general rule is that the higher the hourly rate of an attorney, the more experience he has. All of those hours may seem excessive to you. Still, the attorney should have a good idea of how long it will take to meet with you, answer your questions, design, and draught your estate plan, review your plan with you, assist you in signing your plan, and assist you in funding your trust if you've chosen to include one.

First, talk over the phone

Nowadays, it's common to conduct a significant amount of business over the phone. Before meeting in person, consider conducting telephone interviews with at least two estate planning attorneys. If she agrees, it will save you time and the attorney's time...if she agrees. Expect little actionable information from an initial phone interview. That would be analogous to the attorney providing free legal advice. The purpose of this phone conversation should be to determine whether or not you want to work with her. During this conversation, each attorney should be able to get a sense of your needs and offer you a flat fee for your basic estate plan. Keep in mind that you're not asking what you should do, but how much it will cost you to do what you want to do. This enables you to compare the flat rates provided by each lawyer and reduce the number of candidates you want to meet in person. This option may not be available to busier attorneys.

Request Specifics

Ask an attorney whose fee is higher than another's why it is so high. Estate plans are a product that some attorneys sell in large quantities. Others, on the other hand, are genuinely interested in becoming your life advisor and giving you a top-notch estate plan.

Have Faith in Your Gut

Finding the cheapest attorney should not be your major aim. Consider how comfortable you are with each because you will need to be honest and transparent with this person when discussing the most personal details of your life and finances. Sometimes you have to trust your instincts. Only you will know for certain who you can put this important part of your life the hands.

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