How Much Does An Estate Plan Cost?

October 2, 2015 - Posted by: admin - In category:

taxes - No Responses

This is an important question, but often the wrong place to start.

Consider a situation where you want to build a new home. You make an appointment with a home builder and at the very beginning of your conversation with the builder, you blurt out “how much does a house cost?”  The builder is likely to be somewhat surprised by your question, not because it is a bad question, but because it is the wrong question to start the discussion. In other words, until you have given the home builder at least a general idea of what type of home you are looking to build, he or she has no way to answer the question about cost.  If you absolutely pressed the builder to respond to your question, without further information or explanation, he or she would be forced to refuse to respond (for obvious reasons) or to give you an answer that is as unhelpful as your question–something like “a house can cost anywhere from $10,000 (for a prefabricated shanty) to hundreds of millions of dollars (for a kingly palace).” The result of that limited dialogue would be frustration.  Why? What went wrong? You started with the wrong question and focused solely on money, to the exclusion of more important and more timely items.

You may be thinking that price is THE most important consideration in this discussion, but I would submit that is not the case. Getting a “good deal” for a home that will not fit your taste or needs is not such a good deal after all. Who would be happy to pay $10,000 for a old outhouse masquerading as a “home”? Saving money on something you do not want or need (or something that does not fit your specifications) is not helpful. On the other hand, getting a “good price” for a home that is EXACTLY what you want and need is useful and will lead to your long-term satisfaction. People are willing to pay a premium to get a custom home that is designed and built just for them.

Ok, what does this discussion about homes and real estate prices have to do with estate planning? Actually, it has a great deal to do with those things. When I receive inquiries from potential clients via phone or in person, it is not uncommon for such prospective clients to blurt out a question like “how much do you charge” or “what will my estate plan cost” within the first few moments of our exchange, often without giving me any additional information about them, their situation or what they are looking to accomplish with their planning. This puts me in a similar situation as our hypothetical home builder above–unable to give a meaningful or accurate estimate of costs because I have no idea what type of “structure” we will be building. On the other hand, when we spend adequate time walking through the details of a person’s situation, their family needs and their overall planning objectives, it is then very simple for me to quote a detailed cost for the specified type of planning. Just as with home building, there are an innumerable amount of options and customizations possible when doing estate planning. Likewise, just like the home building context, there are both major and minor changes that can be made in the overall structure to accommodate needs and preferences and such changes can make a corresponding small or large difference in the amount of work involved and the overall complexity and therefore the overall cost of such planning work (now and/or later).

No analogy is perfect, including this one. Even so, I believe that the comparison between home building and estate planning is accurate and helpful in understanding the need to be thoughtful in the approach, careful in the considerations and patient with the process. Ask the right questions. You should by all means ask questions about cost, but focus first on details related to what you are looking to accomplish. If you want a “cookie cutter” shack that is in no way built or customized for you, a “one size fits all” model, then you can download some forms from the internet. Be warned, however, that such approach is little more than purchasing very expensive papers (sometimes as much as $50 per page) and is the equivalent of buying a box of razor blades and a copy of Grey’s Anatomy to perform your own surgery.

Remember, if you want to get the right answers, you need to ask the right questions. A good estate planning attorney will help you in formulating such questions so that you can finally arrive at a plan that is well-suited for your needs, the needs of your loved ones and protective of your property, now and later.

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