There are many factors to consider when it comes to determining the reasonableness of an attorney's fees. Aside from the attorney's experience in handling legal matters similar to yours, local and even state wide business practices also influence what an attorney will charge for a particular matter. Here's a list of factors to consider when determining if the fees quoted to you by a qualified estate planning attorney are reasonable.
Most Attorneys Don't Charge a Fee for the Initial Meeting
While most estate planning attorneys
still won't charge a fee for the initial meeting, recently I've noticed this changing. With the state of the economy, you shouldn't be surprised if the attorney does charge a small fee for the initial meeting with you. Keep in mind that the estate planning attorney is also a business man or woman, and so time spent with you takes time away from billable time on other client matters. Your time is valuable, but so is theirs.
Estate Planning Attorneys Charge a Flat Fee for Estate PlansWhat does a flat mean for estate planning matters? One dollar amount covers the initial meeting, preparation of basic documents, review of documents, and signing of the documents. Some attorneys will also include assistance with funding your trust as part of their flat fee, while others will charge a separate funding fee based upon what they'll be helping you fund into your trust. The alternative would be for the attorney to charge on an hourly basis, but many people are uncomfortable with this approach since there's a great deal of uncertainty about what the final cost will be. You can avoid this by requiring that your estate planning attorney come up with a flat fee to cover all of the services that they'll be providing to you.
Ask About Standard Hourly RatesEven if the attorney quotes you a flat fee, they'll still have a standard hourly rate for other services. Ask the hourly rate of the attorney you're meeting with as well as for other attorneys and paralegals in the same firm. (Note: Usually the higher the attorney's hourly rate, the more experience the attorney has.) This will give you an idea of how many hours the attorney expects the firm to spend on your estate plan. And keep in mind that while the hours may seem like a lot to you, if the attorney is really experienced then they'll have a good idea about the time it will take to meet with you and answer your questions, design and draft your plan, review your plan with you, help you sign your plan, and then help you fund your trust.
Don't Ask for a Range of Fees!This is by far the worst question to ask: "Can you give me a range of fees that you charge for estate planning documents?" If the attorney does give a range of fees, then inevitably you'll be setting yourself up for disappointment because all you'll be focused on is the lowest fee quoted. This won't allow you to think clearly about the value you'll be getting for your money and if the attorney does ask for more than the minimum fee, then you just won't be happy. It's better to discuss your estate planning needs with the attorney first before any fees are quoted because then the attorney will be able to establish a reasonable fee based upon their overall experience with handling estate planning needs similar to yours.
Meet with Two Attorneys by Telephone FirstIt's common these days to handle a significant amount of business by telephone. Instead of meeting in person, for your initial meetings consider setting up telephone interviews with at least two estate planning attorneys. This will not only save you and the attorneys time, but you'll be able to tell within the 30 minutes set aside for the call whether you want to work with the attorney or not. The attorney will also be able to get a feel for what your needs are and quote you a flat fee for your basic estate plan. This will then give you the opportunity to compare the flat fees quoted by each attorney and narrow down your choice as to who you want to meet with in person.
Don't Settle for Less!You know the old saying, "You get what you pay for"? Don't necessarily settle for the cheapest attorney. First, ask the attorney who's going to charge you more why. While some attorneys are in the business of selling estate plans in bulk, others are truly interested in giving you a high quality estate plan and becoming your advisor for life with regard to your estate plan as well as other legal needs. Second, think about how comfortable you felt with the attorney since you'll need to be open and honest when discussing the most intimate details of your personal life and finances. Last, go with your instincts because only you'll know for sure who you'll be able to trust with this important part of your life.