Articles of Interest: Wills, Trusts, and More

How Much for a Simple Will?

"I need a simple Will," the woman's voice said from the other end of the telephone line. "How much do you charge for a simple Will? I don't have much money."

Since I receive at least one call such as this a week, I've become familiar with the question. "What do you want your Will to say?" I reply. "Are you married? Do you have children?"

I certainly understand a person's apprehension in calling a lawyer's office. Most people think lawyers are very expensive and unlike restaurants, lawyers don't have menus with prices.

In my practice, most of the work I perform is billed on a flat fee basis - meaning that if I am representing a client in drafting a Will or with Medicaid planning, I quote one price and that's the price I charge, irrespective of the amount of work I perform. Most client's like this form of billing. The alternative to flat fee billing, hourly billing, leaves much to be desired.

For example, if a lawyer were to tell her client that she would bill them at the rate of $180 per hour for her services, most clients would cringe. The client's first reaction might be to calculate how much they make an hour. If they make $25 per hour, the lawyer's $180 per hour fee would seem exorbitant, at best.

An hourly rate doesn't let a client know how much he or she will pay. Is the lawyer going to work on the matter for one hour or twenty? A client goes to a lawyer because he or she is unfamiliar with the subject area involved in the representation. So, how is the client to know how much time will be involved in the representation?

Letting a client know how much the representation will cost them, up front, is certainly the best way to begin an attorney-client relationship, and flat fee billing allows a lawyer to do that. But in order to quote a client a fair price, a lawyer must be aware of the client's circumstances and goals. People call a lawyer because they are uncertain of how to accomplish a legal goal. The fact that a person calls a lawyer when they are uncertain is a good thing.

When a caller say to me, "how much for a simple Will?," I have to know what they mean by a simple Will. The fact that a person has very few assets or isn't worth much money doesn't necessarily mean that their Will is "simple." In fact, I have often found that when a caller asks that question, their Will is anything but simple.

"Well, my husband passed-away, so I want to leave my estate to my child."

"So, you're leaving you entire estate to your child. Are you leaving your estate to your child outright? In other words, there's no reason to place your child's inheritance into a trust? Does your child spend money frivolously? Does your child have a problem with drugs or alcohol? Does he or she receive government benefits that might need to be protected by placing the money in a special needs trust?"

"Well, my daughter does have a problem with spending money. I haven't had a good relationship with her in the past. I also wanted to leave something to my grandchild. He's four. I want to make sure he gets something. I also want to leave something to the Church."

You can see how a "simple Will" can become anything but simple, very quickly. A "simple Will" is a Will through which you leave your entire estate outright (meaning no trusts) to your spouse or your children (or some other definable class of individuals, for example, siblings) in equal shares.

When a client wants to leave portions of his or her estate in trust or in vary percentages to multiple beneficiaries, their Will is not simple. Yet, just because a client may want to create a trust or have multiple beneficiaries, it doesn't follow that their Will is going to be very costly. Most Wills cost no more than $300 and a truly simply Will would cost no more than $150 for a single individual.  

Lastly, if the lawyer offers a free consultation, providing the lawyer with your information and allowing him or her to give you a quote for the cost of services costs you no more than an hour of your time.

Lawyers seldom have menus for their services, because people's perceptions of what is involved in their representation vary greatly.