Attorneys who specialize in will and estate planning help their clients put their estates in order. Most families benefit from having a will. A common misconception is that they’re strictly useful for people who are wealthy, have a complicated business or own property. However, regardless of a person’s economic status, wills and estate planning can reduce the amount of estate taxes to be paid after death. They can also prevent misunderstandings about who is the recipient of what assets during a challenging time and can help families avoid probate.
Only about 30 percent of people have a will, says Zach Meyer of Sutton Sachs Meyer PLLC in New York, New York, although everyone should have one. Wills permit people to direct their assets where they want them to go. Several factors affect the cost of creating a will.
Types of wills
There are different types of wills for different needs, depending on the number of beneficiaries, whether a person is establishing any trusts and other special instructions that may be required. Costs to establish a will vary, depending on how complex the situation is and who is creating the will. Attorney fees depend on the lawyer’s and the firm’s experience, reputation and geographic location. Meyer with Sutton Sachs Meyer PLLC charges $900 for a basic will with only outright distribution upon death and ranges 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.
Higher priced wills may include one or more testamentary trusts, special needs trusts or qualified domestic trusts, to be in place upon death. Attorneys can even create a pet trust to ensure the care of a beloved animal. A trust involves three parties: the beneficiary (the recipient of the money or property), the trustee (the person or entity managing that money or property on the beneficiary’s behalf) and the trustor (the person who gives the money or property).
The process of creating a will can take anywhere from two to four weeks, according to Meyer with Sutton Sachs Meyer PLLC. 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. 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(s), 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.
A will is only one piece of an estate plan, says Meyer of Sutton Sachs Meyer PLLC. Attorneys can also help create the following documents:
Power of Attorney
Health Care Proxy
Trust-based estate planning is also available. This type of plan is the best way for people to keep their families out of court after death or incapacity. Trust-based estate planning is more expensive upfront but has the potential to help people save on administration costs after death, shares Sutton Sachs Meyer PLLC.