There are many reasons you might be putting off making a will, living trust, or other estate planning documents. It can be difficult to think about what will happen to your assets after you die, or who you trust to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. But another reason for procrastinating may be uncertainty about whether you need a lawyer—and what an estate planning attorney would cost. We surveyed readers across the United States who had recently created estate planning documents to find out how many of them hired a lawyer to help them, how much they paid, and what they said about the process of working with their estate planning attorneys. Here’s what we found out.
Hiring a Lawyer Versus DIY Estate Planning
It certainly is possible to create a will and other basic estate planning documents without a lawyer. In fact, more than a third (39%) of the readers in our survey went the do-it-yourself route (most of them with the help of software, such as Nolo’s Willmaker, or online forms). But that means nearly two-thirds (61%) chose to hire an attorney to help with the process. These people may have had complex financial situations or family circumstances, or they simply didn’t have confidence in their ability to get the details right—especially in a living trust. In fact, our survey showed that readers who hired lawyers were more likely to have included a living trust in their estate plan (76% compared to 59% of those who didn’t use an attorney).
How Lawyers Charge for Estate Planning
Estate planning lawyers generally charge for their services in one of two ways: They may charge a “flat” (or "fixed") fee to prepare one or more estate planning documents, or they may charge by the hour.
Our survey showed that more than eight in ten readers (82%) who hired an attorney to help with their estate planning paid a flat fee. And nearly nine in ten (89%) of those readers paid for a bundle of documents rather than a separate fee for each document. Neither of these results are surprising. Many clients prefer flat fees, because they know exactly what the final bill will be. And whether they hired lawyers or not, the vast majority of our readers included multiple documents in their estate plans.
How Much Do Estate Planning Packages Cost?
Our survey revealed a fairly wide range of fees charged by lawyers for packages of estate planning documents, from under $500 to $3,000 or more. About a third (32%) of readers paid between $1,000 and $2,000, while a quarter (25%) paid between $500 and $1,000.
It’s worth pointing out that 80% of those estate planning bundles included living trusts, which are more complicated to set up—and thus more expensive—than a will, power of attorney, or health care directive. So it’s likely that you would pay closer to the lower end of the range shown in our survey if you don’t need a trust. In fact, two-thirds of our readers who paid for a package without a living trust paid less than $1,000.
When Estate Planning Lawyers Charge Hourly Fees
There may be times when an estate planning lawyer insists on billing you by the hour – for example, if your situation requires ongoing legal support.
As shown in our separate study of fees reported by estate planning attorneys, hourly rates can vary depending on the lawyers’ location and experience level, as well as what they may charge in different cases (most attorneys reported a minimum and maximum rate). Nationally, the average top and bottom hourly rates for estate planning attorneys were $310 and $250.
At those rates, the total bill can add up quickly (unless you’ve asked the lawyer for limited services, such as answering a few questions or reviewing documents that you already prepared). Our readers who paid by the hour for estate planning services typically reported significantly higher total bills than those who paid a flat fee. So before you hire a lawyer, it’s always worth asking if you can pay a flat fee.
What Did Readers Say About Their Estate Planning Lawyers?
Overwhelmingly, our readers reported positive experiences with their estate planning lawyers. More than eight in ten (82%) were satisfied or very satisfied with their attorneys, while only 6% reported any level of dissatisfaction.
To learn more about those experiences, we also asked readers to tell us the best thing their attorneys did for them. More than four in ten (42%) praised their lawyers for preparing the estate planning documents at a fair price—or even doing more than the readers expected for the money. A quarter cited the attorneys’ listening skills and responsiveness to their concerns, while the same proportion (25%) were happy to have learned new things about planning their estate.
These responses should be of help when you’re looking for a lawyer. When you’re researching trusts and estates attorneys, look at what reviews say about the lawyers’ communication skills and whether other clients think they offered good value.
Also, since most of the lawyers in our study said they offered free consultations to potential estate planning clients, you can take advantage of this initial meeting to ask questions and judge for yourself whether an attorney seems like a good fit for you. (Even when attorneys charge for an initial consultation, it could be worth it in the long run.)