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June 27, 2006 7:01 PM   Subscribe

What is a reasonable cost for the preparation of a will?

I know there is a lot of web-based information on the subject, and I'm looking at it, but I'm hoping for some firsthand advice from people who shopped around and particularly that perhaps a couple of lawyers with relevant experience might weigh in.

30's, married with one child: we need to get our wills in place now. The situation is a house (owned 4 years, worth maybe 15% over principle), 2 retirement accounts worth combined less than $100,000, two insurance policies totalling less than $500,000, minor assets otherwise.

I got a recommendation of a 2 person firm from a financial advisor who I trust (and from whom I've gotten a lot of good advice that has consistently been to my benefit). I discussed our situation with one of the partners and it all sounded good but the quote for 2 wills with no estate tax issues gave me sticker shock - $800 (this was a flat fee).

I'm totally naive about legal work; I've never had to hire a lawyer before. I'm really not interested in a DIY solution. I'm willing and able to make this kind of investment. My needs are that our wills be thorough, to the extent possible eliminate unecessary work/decisions/anxiety for survivors, and obviously that it be legally impeccable. I'm confident I'll get these things with this attorney but I'm wondering how much I could save by shopping around. Are there benefits to consider that might come with higher cost service? Our situation is likely to change fairly slowly and incrementally (and very likely no more kids) - how many years can I expect to get out of a will without needing some legal retuning?
posted by nanojath to Law & Government (15 answers total)
$800 sounds a little high, but not outrageous. I got a quote for doing a will from a family friend (so it was a heavy discount) and it was around $300.

I've done some things with lawyers in the past (trademark, copyright, terms of service, etc) and $800-1200 per project was about right.
posted by mathowie at 7:16 PM on June 27, 2006

I am Canadian, so YMMV, but I went through a lawyer who does wills online. It cost around $150 for a married couple and included stuff just as complicated as you are talking about. The customer service was excellent and the lawyer was really responsive to our emails and questions.
posted by acoutu at 7:23 PM on June 27, 2006

First things first. I think (I hope) you mean principal and not principle.

$800 for a straight will is outrageous. If that's all you want, do it yourself. But, with kids, you want a living trust (to avoid probate), power of attorney, etc. which will cost you more but will save you or, more likely, your next of kin, a lot of grief particularly if you and/or your spouse die when your child is still a minor.
posted by TheRaven at 7:34 PM on June 27, 2006

you mean principal and not principle

oops, yeah.

I do want all that stuff TheRaven talking about - and that was what I discussed with the lawyer. Keep in mind also this is the price for two people. Is it still outrageous, or ballpark normal?
posted by nanojath at 7:49 PM on June 27, 2006

TheRaven is right, you must have the living trust, power of attorney, health powers of attorney, etc. My wife and I got our wills (with all that relevant stuff) for free 10 years ago when I worked for a law firm, and I was given to understand the value of services rendered was about $700 at that time. So, if the quote includes the whole shooting match (for both of you), I'd say that's a good price.

Keep in mind that you probably won't have to pay anything else in the future, unless you need to redraw the wills completely; the vast majority of changes to the will can be made with a simple codicil you can write up yourself and have notarized.
posted by lhauser at 7:54 PM on June 27, 2006

IAAL and I do estate planning for friends. I have charged $300 for one will with health care power of attorney, living trust, and a basic trust. That's for friends. I would probably charge more like $700 if I were doing it for a living. Keep in mind, though, this is a bigger market in Chicago than where you are in Minneapolis, that I don't practice law for a living (I am a marketing director for a law firm), and that I graduated law school a year and a half ago. $800 would be much more in line with an experienced attorney who practices law for a living in a smaller market like MN.

lhauser is right, you will really only have to do this once if you do it right. Make sure that if you're really doing a standard will that the will takes into account any future children you may have (even if you don't plan on having any). That is the one major mistake I have seen other estate planners make.
posted by MeetMegan at 8:00 PM on June 27, 2006

IAAL, and I don't think $800 is outrageous, at all.

Legal services is one area in which, generally speaking, you don't want to bargain hunt.
posted by jayder at 8:10 PM on June 27, 2006

IANAL, but I do know some of the going prices in FL. For two people, I've seen $2975 for a package consisting of:

* Simple Last Will & testament
* Living Will / health surrogate
* Durable power of attorney declaration
* Family revocable trust
* Children/second gen trust distributions
* Pre need guardianship declaration

You will want to setup things one way now, and re-evaluate when your child turns 18, or should your estate significantly change in value. My folks only revisited their stuff when us kids turned 18 (changed who would be the executor), and another time when my father was dying (mainly to proofread a final time!). So, it's really only major life events that should prompt a change in the documents.
posted by Sangre Azul at 8:30 PM on June 27, 2006

Oh, and FWIW, when I did my own package, I ultimately chose a lawyer with whom I was most comfortable. I'm single, which means I'm especially concerned about my affairs being handled by the correct people (and my money going to what may not be "obvious" choices), so I went with the firm who was the most patient and thorough with my questions. Price was never really a deciding factor.
posted by Sangre Azul at 8:37 PM on June 27, 2006

Thanks for many good answers so far. This is exactly the sort of information I was hoping for.
posted by nanojath at 8:47 PM on June 27, 2006

Check out for guides, forms, advice, etc., for a do it yourself approach.
posted by NortonDC at 9:35 PM on June 27, 2006

If you don't have a complicated estate (and it sounds like you don't), I think it's highly likely that one of the DIY will software packages would do nicely. I haven't used any myself, but a friend of mine was happy with Willmaker.
posted by j-dawg at 6:54 AM on June 28, 2006

IAAL and it depends on the market. $800 where I'm at (Washington, D.C.) sounds just fine. As for a DIY package doing nicely, how can you know until your will is actually used? One of the best things about a lawyer is having a person to hold accountable for the work.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:52 AM on June 28, 2006

Regarding DYI wills - IAAL and not only would I not use a DYI will kit I wouldn't do my own or anyone elses will because I don't do such work and am no longer familiar with the pitfalls that exist. I would find an attorney who does wills as part of their day to day practise. The cost savings aren't worth the risks.
posted by Carbolic at 12:43 PM on June 28, 2006

Again, I appreciate all the input. I plan to go with the individual I mentioned (my financial advisor's advice really has been very good up to now) and I'm glad to see a range of prices that indicates this fee is in a normal range.
posted by nanojath at 10:19 PM on June 29, 2006

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