What does it cost to protect your family with a professionally-prepared will?
Can you get an inexpensive will?
I’ll share a secret about lawyer’s fees for preparing wills.
The other day, I was explaining estate planning to an audience:
“Estate planning is what you do for the people you leave behind. If you love your family, you’ll find time to make an estate plan. Everyone needs a will and powers of attorney.”
At the end of my talk, a number of people had questions. Can you guess what question most people asked me? I’ll tell you in a moment.
Typical Estate Planning Questions
Here are some questions from a group of 50 people:
- What are my rights to a share in property as a common law spouse?
- Why do I have to pay taxes if I gift my summer home to my son?
- Who says I can’t treat my children unequally?
- What are the dangers of jointly-owned real estate?
- Who should I choose as my executor?
- How can I protect the value of my business if I die?
- Who should get my life insurance?
- Who should have my powers of attorney?
- What is the best way to deal with my end-of-life care?
The point is that estate planning is personal. Every answer to each of these questions depends on your situation. Your marital status alone makes a big difference in your will. Lawyers need to know if you are single, divorced, separated, in a second marriage or in a common law relationship.
But, the question I was most frequently asked was:
“How much will it cost to prepare a simple will?”
What is a Simple Will?
I replied with my own questions:
- How long do you think it takes to prepare a simple will?
- Is a twenty-page will simple if you don’t understand it?
- Is it supposed to be inexpensive because it is simple?
- Is it simple because it is easy to understand?
- How long will it take to answer all your questions?
- What about the questions the lawyer must ask you?
It is Not Easy Making Things Simple
It takes experience to know what must be included in a will.
I am a Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts Law. I also advise executors who administer estates. This gives me a different perspective on drafting wills. I know what makes the executor’s job harder when a will is poorly drafted.
I am also involved in estate litigation over poorly drafted wills. Poorly drafted wills create problems and disagreements among family members. When it comes to dividing an estate pie, everyone gets their own lawyer. They fight to ensure they get their slice of the pie. If you try cutting your spouse out of your will, your family will learn what bad advice really costs.
Remember: wills are legal documents courts review, interpret and invalidate.
You may believe wills are standard documents and that every lawyer simply prints the same one off their computers. Some lawyers do that. Some lawyers actually tell clients to wait in their office while they prepare their wills. The fee for this can be a low couple of hundred dollars.
What’s Wrong with That?
You may be getting the same will everybody else gets – with no specific advice.
Your will is supposed to work for you and your personal circumstances. What good is a will if it does not meet your personal needs? It must be tailored to your circumstances. Otherwise, it can do harm.
It is the advice you receive before you make decisions that is important.
Wills are the cornerstone to an estate plan. But they are only part of an estate plan. Estate planning is more than having a will; you need to identify who holds title to your assets and your tax liabilities.
You need advice on choosing the right executor, beneficiaries and what you need to do to meet your family law obligations. Your marital status, rights and obligations under the law alone require special treatment.
Your lawyer needs to know about your assets, real estate, insurance, investments, or business. Your children’s needs can be complex if guardians and trusts are required. Tax planning is necessary even with a “simple” will.
To do all this, lawyers need to meet privately with you. You need to share confidential information.
Some lawyers charge inexpensive fees and make good wills. They may have no overhead. They can provide excellent services at a low cost. There are competent lawyers in every price range. Paying a high price for a will does not guarantee you get a highly qualified wills lawyer.
But how do you know?
Every will involves preparing an estate and tax plan. Would you go to the cheapest dentist in town? If you are looking for a cheap will, ask yourself:
“How do I know if there is anything missing in my simple will?”
Figuring this out can cost your beneficiaries tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. It costs to fix a simple but poorly drafted will.
Would you ask your plumber to fix your electrical wiring? The answer is obvious. Making your will is an investment to prevent problems, not create them.
Hire a lawyer who spends their time making wills.
Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, and C.S.) is an Ontario lawyer, nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto based Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts. Edward has practiced law since 1978 and is the author of Executor Kung Fu: Master Any Estates in Three Easy Steps. © 2014