Myth 8: “I can’t afford to hire an attorney.”

You can probably afford what you deem to be important and NOT hiring an attorney may eventually cost you, your loved ones and/or your estate FAR more in the end.

It’s a general rule that attorneys aren’t inexpensive. But it’s my and your experience that most of us find a way to pay for the things we value and see as important in our lives.

Here’s another personal experience to make the point: earlier this year, I met with a very nice married couple. At the beginning of our meeting, while we were getting to know each other, the husband and wife told me about their world travels. Both were retired, and they had saved over the years so that they were in a position to travel and vacation often. While they were not wealthy by any means, they were debt free, had adequate retirement income and savings, and were in a position to enjoy themselves.

When we got to the legal consultation part of our meeting, I learned about their family and many other personal details, including their objectives for the years ahead, their values, and what they hoped to achieve through their planning. When I had sufficient information to understand what type of customized planning we could do for them, I explained the highlights of such planning, including a few different options. Finally, I quoted them the fees for the different planning options.

At the end of the meeting, the couple nicely informed me that my fees were higher than what they were able to “afford,” and we parted on friendly terms.

Here are a few observations from this example:

  • I admit I’m not the least-expensive option for estate planning in my area, but neither am I the most expensive—not by any means. Even so, the fee I quoted this couple for the most expensive of the options I presented them was significantly less than what just one of their many travel adventures would have cost them. Am I suggesting they needed to choose between a valid, carefully drafted, and customized estate plan and their dreams of traveling the world? No, not at all. At most, perhaps they might have had to postpone just one of their adventures for a few months to pay for a comprehensive estate plan, and more likely, they could afford to do an estate plan without even the slightest variation in travel schedules.
  • The real issue was likely that this couple simply did not see the value of doing their planning at this time—or at least they didn’t value the planning as much as they valued more travels to Asia, Europe, South America, and other points of the globe. Estate planning was just not their priority, so they pushed it aside and used the “we can’t afford it” excuse.
  • Most often, we find ways to pay for things we value; this is why it’s common to see satellite TV dishes on apartments even in poor areas of town and why impoverished folks often carry iPhones and eat out on a regular basis.
  • If estate planning isn’t a priority, its costs (whatever they may be) will always seem too much. Conversely, I visit with people who understand the realities and the importance of estate planning. For them, it’s the priority whether they’re young or old, healthy or ill. I’m conscious in those instances of the great trust they put in me. In those instances, I can quote just about any fee I choose and they’re willing to pay. It’s all a matter of priorities.

On the topic of what you and I can afford for estate planning legal services, it’s much like preventative dental or medical care. It’s very often much less expensive in the short and long term to pay for professional help up front rather than pay for the consequential damage and problems that follow down the road. It’s better, easier, and far less expensive (and less painful) to get regular medical checkups, to eat healthy and exercise (and even to undergo minor preventive medical procedures) than to tell ourselves “I can’t afford to consult with a doctor” and carry on with our normal routines and habits but then end up needing open-heart surgery. It’s obviously the same with dental care and even car maintenance.

These same concepts apply to estate planning—it may be much less expensive to do some work and planning along the way, including regular upkeep and maintenance, than to deal with cleaning up a catastrophe down the road, such as disability, or leaving others the unenviable and unwanted task of cleaning up our messes after our death.

Attorneys are bound by ethical rules and other guidelines that mandate that legal fees are always reasonable in relation to the services being provided. I, as do most attorneys, take these rules very seriously. I would never charge an unreasonable fee just because I might be able to do so. Rather, I’m simply making the point that price is really not a consideration for those serious about getting competent professional assistance, including estate planning counsel. To analogize, if you have a serious medical problem and are desperate to find help and answers, you don’t call around for the least expensive physician; you look for the best possible help very quickly.