How Much Does a Lawyer Charge To Write a Will?
Understanding factors that go into the cost of a will
on November 30, 2022
Updated on January 29, 2023
A last will and testament is a legal document that states your final wishes and directs how your estate should be distributed when you die.
What is an estate? Your estate includes all your assets, including real estate, personal property, financial assets, and digital assets.
There are many reasons why having a will is essential:
- It gives you peace of mind that your affairs are in order
- It provides your loved ones clarity about your final wishes
- It ensures your property is distributed the way you want it to be
- It creates a plan for how your minor children will be cared for if you die
Despite the benefits of having a will, many people don’t take action to get one. Individuals might delay getting a will because they think it’s a difficult process or too expensive.
“As a consumer myself, I want to know at the outset what [a will] is going to cost. Anytime I can give that assurance at the outset, I think I’m doing a service to the client,” says Maryland estate planning attorney Jeremy D. Rachlin. “And it’s a fair question when a potential client reaches out to an attorney: What’s it going to cost?”
This article will explain the factors that go into how much a will could cost. In most cases, getting a will is relatively inexpensive and definitely worth the advantages of having a plan in place.
What Does a Will Do?
As noted above, a will plans for what happens when you die. A will does this through a few specific provisions:
- Explicitly states your final wishes
- Names beneficiaries who will receive your property
- Appoints a personal representative to guide your estate through probate court and make sure your final wishes are fulfilled
- Names a guardian for minor children
Without a will, your estate will be subject to your state’s intestate succession laws. State laws vary, but intestate succession generally distributes property to the first available family member. Starting with the surviving spouse, intestate succession will go through a list of family members until someone is available to receive the deceased person’s estate. If there is no relative, the estate ultimately reverts to the state.
One of the issues with intestate succession is it often does not match individuals’ preferences for disposing of their estate. A family member you don’t like could end up with your property. In contrast, a family member you wanted to leave your estate to gets nothing.
In other words, without a will, you have no say in how your estate is distributed.
Alongside the will, other important estate planning documents include:
- A living will (also called an advance healthcare directive) that makes end-of-life and healthcare-related decisions in case you become incapacitated
- A medical power of attorney that appoints a person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated
- A living trust that transfers assets to beneficiaries upon your death
Disadvantages of Creating a Will Yourself
If you have a small estate that would avoid estate taxes, don’t own a business, and aren’t interested in creating a trust, a simple will likely suffice for your needs.
A simple will states your final wishes, names beneficiaries, and appoints an executor. It’s certainly possible to make your own will—for example, by using do-it-yourself online will templates.
However, every state has its own laws governing wills and estate planning. If you’re creating a will on your own, it’s essential to thoroughly understand your state’s requirements.
If you don’t fully comply with your state’s laws, your estate plan will be vulnerable to challenges in probate court and may not be upheld as valid.
Problems with a will can lead to a protracted probate process, additional probate fees, and heightened stress for your family as they have to deal with mistakes.
So, the main disadvantage of producing a will yourself is lacking the legal expertise to ensure that your will meets the requirements.
Things only get more complicated with large estates or estates involving businesses.
It’s wise to speak with an estate planning lawyer to ensure you understand the requirements and any pitfalls in the process.
How Attorneys Charge for a Will
Attorneys charge various fees and use different fee arrangements. The total cost for an estate plan will depend on the full legal services you use.
Common fee arrangements include:
- Retainer fees. These fees reserve a lawyer’s services for when you need them in the future.
- Hourly fees. Hourly billing is often used for more complex or involved legal matters. A lawyer’s hourly rate depends on various factors, such as their experience, the size of the law firm they work at, whether they have paralegals helping with matters, etc.
- Flat fee. This is often used to draft more routine legal documents, such as a simple will.
“For most wills, it’s fairly easy for attorneys to predict how much attorney time is going to go into the project,” says Rachlin.
As a result, many estate planning attorneys will charge a flat fee for their services.
“Now, the flat fee can range depending on the complexity of the will and the terms that the client asks us to put into the will—and that can depend on, for example, whether there are children or if there’s a second marriage,” he says.
So, potential clients can generally expect some sort of a flat fee for creating a will, starting from a few hundred dollars and becoming more expensive depending on the will’s complexity.
As Rachlin says, asking about cost is a fair question when looking for an attorney. In fact, lawyer’s fees is one of the main questions you should ask in determining if a lawyer is right for you.
Questions for an Estate Planning Attorney
Most estate planning lawyers provide free consultations for potential clients, giving you legal advice about your estate without initial costs.
In addition to asking about attorney’s fees, consider asking:
- What is your experience as an estate planning attorney?
- What other legal services do you provide?
- What other estate planning documents should I have?
- How much do other estate planning documents cost?
- Are there additional legal fees in creating an estate plan?
Once you have met with a lawyer and gotten your questions answered, you can begin an attorney-client relationship.
Look for a lawyer who specializes in wills in the Super Lawyers directory for your estate planning needs.