This is the #1 question we field and also one of the most challenging to answer.
There are very inexpensive Will-drafting software packages for sale in office supply and box stores (about $50), there are relatively inexpensive online Will drafting services (about $100), there are are fresh-out-of-law-school newbies advertising on Craigslist who will draft a will off a form for you for about $500, and many general practice lawyers who will be happy to fill in some form documents and churn out a run-of-the-mill, bare bones, basic estate plan for around $800-$1000.
The trouble with all of these is that one size never quite fits all, your family circumstances and finances are not the same as everyone else’s, and a Will should not be a commodity, and the process of creating an estate plan should not be akin to purchasing a television off a store shelf. Moreover, there are other legal instruments that are often more critically important than Wills, but wihout proper guidance, many people sadly never learn that. We don’t know what we don’t know and with no one to ask enough of the right questions and explain things sufficiently to enable us to make informed decisions, we’ll never learn. What’s worse is that if you go through the trouble and don’t properly execute the legal instruments, they aren’t worth the paper on which they’re printed. It’s the professional legal counseling and advice that will help you make the best decisions to accomplish your individual goals and objectives and spare you and your loved ones the headaches and hassles of a failed plan.
Another problem with those approaches is that they are purely document-driven and transactional. But an estate plan needs to be a living breathing thing that gets reevaluated periodically and regularly as your life’s circumstances change to ensure that it is still accomplishing what you want, protecting what’s most important to you, and doesn’t become a worthless pile of paper. That’s one reason I seek to develop long term friendly professional relationships to serve as my clients’ trusted family advisor over the long haul.
The temptation for all of us is strong, especially these days, to try to save money by shopping around for the best deal. It is of critical importance, however, to be able to compare apples to apples. I charge neither the least nor the most expensive rates for my estate planning legal services. I do try to provide exceptional, highly personalized service and go above and beyond the usual experience. In my practice we use a printed flat fee schedule and depending on the clients’ particular personal and financial situation, needs, and wishes, we identify the right plan level and associated flat fee together and agree to it in advance so there are never any unpleasant fee-related surprises.
I accept credit card payments, and where necessary work with my clients to set up payment plans to help make it as affordable as possible to get their plans in place now. What I do not want to be, as a colleague recently put it, is the Walmart of Wills. “I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed.” (John Cusack/Say Anything, anyone?) But seriously, I have no desire to mass-produce shoddy documents at discounted prices without caring about whether that is really what my clients need.
So what your simple will will cost will depend on a whole host of factors, but none of those will be my mood or what I had for breakfast that day. You’ll have the fee schedule to review in advance, and by the time we’ve finished the first half of our first meeting, you will have all the information you need to know what you need and want and precisely what that will cost you. Then it will be up to you to decide whether and how much legal counseling and advice you want and for how long as well as what type of plan you want to put in place for your surviving loved ones.