No one likes talking about death, but it’s better than leaving your children or siblings to sort out your estate. A clearly planned will can make the time of mourning easier for everyone. An estate attorney will develop a legal will, create trusts on your behalf, and ensure the proper execution of your estate after you pass away.
Family attorneys and estate attorneys, also called probate and wills attorneys, can each prepare wills. The type of lawyer best suited to prepare your will depends on your situation. Most family attorneys provide services to prepare basic wills, including bequeathing property and personal items to family or naming a guardian for minor children. However, estate attorneys specialize in preparing wills in more complex situations. Consider hiring an estate attorney if you:
- Have a large number of assets, especially those subject to estate taxes
- Want to create a trust, such as allowing a spouse to live in your home until he or she dies and then leaving it to your children, or set up long-term care for a beneficiary
- Have an ownership stake in a business
- Expect someone to contest your will
- Want to disinherit your spouse
The cost of an estate plan depends largely on the number of parts it includes and the complexity of the documents. The most basic estate plan is simply a will, but it may also include designating power of attorney or a health care proxy to another person, writing a living will, or making a HIPAA authorization. The average national cost to make an estate plan ranges from $350 to $900, but can cost much more in complicated situations. For example, an estate attorney may charge only $900 to prepare a basic will providing outright distribution — meaning that property and assets are distributed upon death. Writing a more complicated will and holding assets in trusts can cost $3,000, or more. The process of creating an estate plan generally takes two to four weeks, starting with the initial consultation with the wills attorney to identify areas of concern in order to design an estate plan that fits your goals and budget. Once an estate plan is written, the attorney meets with the clients, a notary, and two neutral witnesses to review and sign the plan and associated documents.
Either a family attorney or an estate, or wills, attorney can help you prepare a living will, either as part of your general estate planning or as an individual document. The cost typically ranges from $250 to $500, depending on your attorney’s fees; some charge by the hour, while others have a flat rate for writing a living will. Some states require living wills to be notarized, which adds an average of $5 to $15. In a living will — also called an advanced healthcare directive — you specify whether you want to be kept on life support if you become terminally ill or lapse into a persistent vegetative state. You can also answer other important questions in a living will like your preferences for tube feeding, artificial hydration and pain medication in situations when you cannot communicate your wishes on your own.
Estate planning is an important part of financial planning, so it’s important to find the right attorney to prepare your will. Although most family attorneys can put together a basic will, you may want one who specializes in wills and estate planning, especially if you have a lot of assets or a dependent to take care of. You may need an attorney who has expertise in planning and executing trusts and a background in taxes. Ask how the attorney charges; some charge by the hour, others have a set fee for writing wills, and some charge a percentage of the total value of the estate. Make a list of several potential wills attorneys to interview. Make sure you make a strong personal connection with your attorney — you need to be comfortable telling him or her personal, confidential information about your life, and you need to feel that the attorney is committed to solving any problems that may arise while writing your will. Also find out how long the attorney has practiced estate law and whether he or she has handled wills similar to yours.