Nationwide, the average cost for an attorney or firm to create a will is $940 to $1,500 for an individual person. You can typically add on a second nearly identical will for a spouse. Most firms will reduce their price to a few hundred dollars for this. Ultimately, the fee you pay to create a will varies and depends on the size and complexity of your estate. Most attorneys charge a flat fee for writing a will, though there may be additional hourly charges if you have unique estate planning needs.
While thinking about what will happen when you're gone is never fun, writing a last will and testament is essential to making sure your loved ones are taken care of and the future of your estate is in the hands of a trusted executor. Before you hire a law firm or estate planning attorney to help, get an idea of what legal aid you might need, and estimate how much you will pay for a will-writing service.
What's in this cost guide?
The more assets you have, and the more special requirements you have for distributing those assets, the more you will pay for a will.
The good news is that, for many people, the price of a will shouldn't be too high and is generally a pretty affordable expense. Attorneys usually charge a flat fee for will-writing services. If you need additional estate planning services, your lawyer may charge an additional hourly fee.
A few factors can raise the cost of a will:
Attorneys based out of major cities have higher fees than those in rural or suburban areas. The hourly rate of an attorney in a rural area can cost around $100 and those in urban areas can charge as much as $400.
Law firms and lawyers that focus only on estate planning tend to be more expensive.
Writing a new will for large estates with complicated financial affairs are more expensive, since they take more time to write than a simple will.
For example, Meyer with Sutton Sachs Meyer PLLC charges $900 for a basic will with only outright distribution upon death. His fee can go up to $3,000 for more complex situations. Outright distribution means that property and assets are distributed upon death as opposed to being held in trusts or other capacities in the recipient's name.
A will is just one part of your estate planning tools. You may need to augment it with a power of attorney. This legal document lets you appoint an attorney-in-fact, or someone to oversee your finances, if you become incapacitated.
Wills aren't right for everyone's financial situation either. You may want to explore creating a living trust to make sure your assets get distributed without going through a lengthy probate process, or the legal process where a will is "proved" as the last will and testament of the deceased in a court of law.
Setting a power of attorney or living trust are often offered as part of estate planning packages that attorneys and law firms offer, or can be purchased individually. Packaging multiple services together can often bring down the total cost of your attorney fees, but may not be worth it if you don't need all of these services.
A power of attorney designates an attorney-in-fact, or a person to act in your stead, if you become unable to manage your own affairs. This could be a spouse, civil partner or other trusted family member. These important documents can enable someone to manage your investments, pay bills, and oversee your finances.
Additionally, your attorney can also assist you with setting up a medical power of attorney. This appoints someone to make decisions regarding your health care if you become unable to choose yourself.
At its most basic level, a will lists out your wishes for who gets your possessions, money and assets when you pass away, as well as appointing guardians for your minor children.
A valid will appoints an executor, a person responsible for carrying out your requests. The executor works with a probate court to distribute your assets in an orderly, and accurate, fashion. This could include settling debts you may owe, paying any required taxes on your estate, and selling items to raise money for any cash bequests you left your beneficiaries. If you have children under the age of 18, it will also state who their guardian is -- because the last thing anyone wants is for them to go through a tough child custody battle while grieving.
A probate can be a long, expensive process, sometimes lasting up to a year and costing thousands of dollars. Luckily, smaller estates can usually skip the probate process. An attorney can help you with strategies for avoiding probate as well.
What's a mirror will?
A mirror will is an almost identical version of a will. It's typically used by spouses who have the same plan for distributing their assets to each other and their children.
What's a joint will?
A joint will is a single will for two people. These used to be popular among couples as they were cheaper than creating separate wills for each person, but have fallen out of favor for a simple reason - they can't be altered once one person dies. That means whichever person outlives the other is stuck with the same estate plan even if their situation changes.
Using a living trust, a person transfers the property they want to pass on to a trust. A trustee is appointed and provided instructions on how to distribute the property in the trust once you pass away. Since the property is transferred from the trust to the beneficiaries, rather than from you to the beneficiaries, it bypasses probate court and gets distributed faster. It also avoiding any probate fees to execute your will.
A living trust is useful when a person has multiple properties, investments, and other assets they want to pass on to their beneficiaries without going through a lengthy probate process or wasting their hard-earned money on additional legal fees.
There are plenty of services you can use to create a will online. These DIY wills cost less than the attorney fees you would spend for professional will-writing. However, many of these offer a one-size-fits-all solution where you fill-in-the-blank on common questions. Online wills often lack the personalization you need.
Additionally, a benefit of hiring an attorney is they can answer your questions, offer suggestions on how to avoid probating a will, and address your wider estate planning needs. The up-front cost of getting a will or living trust through an attorney can save you, and your beneficiaries, money in the long run.
If you do choose to get an online will or write your own will, you can pay an attorney by the hour to have them review it.
A well-designed will or living trust ensures your last wishes are carried out without undue stress, delays, or cost. The right real estate attorney helps you create a plan that avoids probate and gets every asset to its intended recipient.
Before you begin looking for an attorney or law firm to work with, look at your own situation to determine your needs. Most people should just need to find an attorney experienced in will-drafting, power of attorney and trusts.
If you have a more complex situation, such as owning real estate in multiple states, overseas bank accounts, or your own business, you should look for an attorney specializing in those specific areas of estate law. To check this, see what legal organizations they belong to and whether they're licensed to work in a specific field or location.
Creating a will can take anywhere from two to four weeks or more. Clients typically begin the process by meeting with an attorney who reviews their individual estate planning needs, identifies areas of concern and designs a plan that fits the client's goals and budget. Then, the attorney begins the will-drafting process.
A few weeks later, they meet again for a signing meeting to review and sign the plan and documents. The "signing ceremony" includes the client, a notary and two witnesses who won't benefit under the planning documents. Using witnesses who won't benefit from the will can be a safeguard against conflict of interest or coercion.
The more complex your estate, the more you will spend on estate planning services. Simplifying your estate as much as possible can save you money on a will.
- Check your accounts: At minimum, make sure you have a designated beneficiary for your retirement accounts (IRA, 401K, etc.), bank accounts and investment accounts.
- Set up joint ownership: Establish joint ownership for expensive assets like vehicles, real estate and financial accounts.
- Transfer property early: Gifting assets to your beneficiaries while you're alive is an easy way of simplifying your estate.
Also, just because you can't afford the legal fees to create a will doesn't mean you don't need one. Wills can also appoint guardians to minor children as well as instructions for addressing other financial issues. All states offer some form of legal aid to draft wills for low-income residents.