I recently read an article by an attorney who expressed his frustration with clients or potential clients asking him, “What will x or y cost me?” The attorney accurately pointed out that the simple question of what will a legal service cost is not always simple to answer. He compared that question to someone asking a doctor who knows nothing about the person’s medical history or has never examined the person a question like, “Doctor, I’m sick. I don’t know how sick, or what my options are, but how much will you charge to make me better?”
Any attorney, financial advisor, paralegal, or do-it-yourself computer/online service that offers “one-price-fits-all” estate planning without conducting an examination and reaching a diagnosis to identify an inquiring client’s goals, fears, concerns, needs and aspirations is, in fact, NOT providing a plan at all. They are simply selling forms.
It is crucial that the examination, diagnosis and planning of an estate is done by an experienced attorney who is an expert in this area of practice. It is also important to remember that the value and benefit you and your family can receive from a comprehensive estate plan is not magically provided by a stack of papers titled “Living Trust” or “Estate Plan.” It comes from the knowledge, care and thoroughness of a person who creates an estate plan for your family’s protection and peace of mind. A well-drafted estate plan does not lend itself to a prepackaged price. There is no one combination of legal documents and language that will fit each and every person’s or family’s wants and needs.
Unfortunately, many people envision a living trust or other estate planning documents to be nothing more than a “fill in the blanks” form, and shop strictly on price. That approach may very well be inadequate with many unintended consequences waiting to occur based on the terms of the documents they actually execute.
I also recently read a quote from the State of California’s Attorney General regarding a trust mill (an organization with attorneys selling a “one-size-fits-all” template trust document to clients) he had just put out of business. He said, “Living trusts are complex documents that must be properly prepared to meet and individual’s needs. Any decision regarding living trusts should not be taken lightly, and proper legal advice is necessary.”
As a result, if you are dealing with a professional estate planning attorney who actually provides quality, custom services and products with honesty and integrity, he or she will not always be able to answer the question, “How much does it cost?”