This post isn’t going to tell you why you should get a will – you know that already… every post, article, or piece of advice about a will since the advent of advice on what to do with your stuff when you die has told you why. Instead, we want you to know how to get a will. First off, it is very easy. And, second, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Now, that’s of course generalized, but, in general, a will doesn’t need to be complicated, and, translated, doesn’t need to be expensive.
It can be a bit daunting when you go online searching to answer that “how” question. A plethora of online companies offer ‘self-help’ options to create a will package. However, each state is different and every person is different, so you need to be careful that you are picking a legitimate site that actually pays attention to the legalities so your will is valid AND you need to make sure you are getting all the advice you need from the blurbs that describe what information you need to input. So, let’s say you already know you want to by-pass this potential ‘self-help’ headache, but you don’t know where to find an attorney to draft your will and you don’t have thousands of dollars to plunk down to get it done… you also don’t have hours to take off work to get it done. Well, that’s where this article may come in handy. Below are some tips on what to look for in an attorney, the questions to ask, and the information you should bring with you for the attorney… oh, and some cost guidelines you might find helpful.
How to find an attorney to draft your will?
- Your local Bar Association. Each county has one – check out the website and give them a call… they have attorney referral networks;
- Online web search. Now, this is fishing in a big pond with a lot of fish so be careful. Keep in mind that lawyers, like most professions, need clients and they use the tricks of the trade to up their search results.
- Sites such as Lawyers.com, AVVO.com, etc. Some are better than others, but these often do provide you with concise summaries of the lawyer’s background and experience. Be aware, though, law firms and lawyers sometimes pay to be on these sites so the field may be more limited than these results suggest.
- Talk to friends and family. This is often the best way to find a lawyer you can trust.
What to ask your potential attorney?
- We always advise that you ask an attorney their background – what do they practice? How long have they practiced? How many wills have they drafted? We advise this because you need to feel comfortable with your attorney. It doesn’t mean you need an attorney with decades of experience, but it should fit with your needs and comfort level.
- How is the will drafted? That is, you should know whether the attorney plans to use a template and whether the attorney with whom you meet is the one that will actually do the drafting. For most wills, attorneys will work from a template, but you should know ahead of time what customization is involved and that you are paying for an attorney’s expertise and not someone to “fill in the blanks.”
- How long will the documents take to be drafted? As a general rule, the amount of time depends on a number of factors, but you need to be comfortable with the answer. Once the attorney has all of the information needed from you, an average timeline would probably be within a week or so, depending on the complexity of your will.
What information will be needed?
- Previous wills. Go with a broad net here – whether it was self-help, something you wrote on a napkin, something out-of-state, or another will by another attorney… if it was intended to be a will, you need to inform the attorney.
- The attorney will need to know what family members are alive – particularly spouses, ex-spouses, children, and step-children.
- Bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc. If you have money somewhere, you need to bring the account information. If there’s no account information because it is buried in your backyard, bring a map – no really, bring a map.
- Identify your cool stuff. Whether you are a pack-rat or a minimalist, we all have some thing or things we care about and want to pass down. Take a picture of it and be prepared to identify it as specifically as possible.
- Deeds, etc. If you have paperwork on something you own (like a house), bring it.
- If you have debt, your attorney needs to know about it. It may go away when you pass on, but if the estate will be responsible for it, the will needs to address it.
- Names of your most trusted people. Really, a short list. Your attorney will need to put someone in charge of executing the directives in the will… and you’ll need at least one back-up. You’ll also want to think about who you would want in charge of making medical decisions as well as financial decisions.
- Business documents. If you own a business, go ahead and bring any ownership documents. It isn’t necessary to include in your will, but your attorney will want to address any business interests to make sure you have covered these aspects.
So, what does a will cost?
- ASK! Ask in your consultation what it will cost. Generally, wills are done on a flat fee basis. For a simple will package, that will vary, but somewhere in the $450 – $750 range. Some attorneys may charge by the hour, and that can range from $200 – $500 per hour.
- Structure payment. Most attorneys have a reason why they charge what they do, and that charge is commensurate with what is going into the will package. While you may or may not be able to negotiate the rate, you likely can negotiate the structure – such as a payment plan or a deposit and final payment.
- More complexity = higher costs, but understand the added cost. That is, if your particular situation is more complex, requiring trusts or certain asset protection plans, the attorney will likely charge more because more work is involved. Make sure you understand this ahead of time. Your attorney should be crystal clear about the cost of the engagement.
No one likes thinking about wills, and we all hate the lecture about why we need one. It is uncomfortable and nothing changes that… unless we find a way to become immortal. So, short of that, it is time to just get a will. It doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Remember that attorneys often provide free consultations, so if you know you need one, but are still unsure how it works or what it will cost – or really any questions – contact an attorney and ask.