How much does estate planning cost?

Providing exceptional business planning and estate planning in Exeter, NH; Southern NH and the Seacoast; Chester, NH; Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts; Andover / North Andover.

By Angela Hayden

Jan 28
sage legal

This is a question I get asked a lot, which is totally appropriate and understandable. I mean, everyone wants to know what something costs before they buy it. When it comes to estate planning, the initial answer to the question may be wholly unsatisfactory. Because the answer is:

“It depends….”

Because there isn’t (and shouldn’t) be a one size fits all approach. There are so many articles, gurus, and overly-simplified approaches to creating an estate plan out there that will tell you “nobody needs this” or “everybody should do that.” Following that sort of advice may be your jam. And if it is, I encourage you to embrace it fully and go for it. But if you want to dig deeper and have a better understanding of where those types of statements come from or when they don’t apply, then read further. I’ll lay out the questions and answers that impact the complete answer to “what does it cost.” I will also ask you to please be wary of advice that dictates rules without exception. I promise you that you won’t find that with us. 

For example, “nobody needs a trust” or “trusts are a waste of money and just a way for lawyers to make bigger fees.” Or the flip side of that “everybody should have a trust” or “probate court is a total nightmare you always want to avoid.” 

None of those statements are actually true in my experience. 

Determining what is right for you (and ultimately the answer to the question of “what does it cost?”) depends on a few factors, the most important of which are as follows: 

  1. 1)What do you want most for your family? Do you want them to learn first hand why people say probate court is a nightmare? Do you want to make it easy for them to take care of your assets when you are gone? Do you have family members you don’t want to receive anything from your estate or ever have custody of your kids? Do you want to reduce the chances your family ends up in court or in conflict? 
  2. 2)What kind of assets do you own? You may own assets that make a revocable living trust-based plan the right choice. Or you may not, in which case a will with what are often called “ancillary” documents may suffice (that’s the set of documents that allows someone to pay your bills and make medical decisions if you become incapacitated).

If you choose to work with us, we ask for lots of information in advance - not so we can charge you more or less (I’m going to share with you at the end of this post what our fee range is so you know – no surprises), but so that we can talk meaningfully about important considerations you may want to make based on the assets you own. If you live in Massachusetts, did you know that there is an estate tax for estates over $1,000,000? Do you know what assets are included for determining what constitutes a taxable estate? You may want to be looking at planning that reduces or eliminates taxes for your family. Do you own property out of state? What are the best ways to handle that? 

  1. 3)If you decide to do a living trust-based plan, are you the type of person who can and will handle transferring all the assets into the trust so that it works when it needs to? Or do you know you want someone else to handle that for you? This is an area where many plans fail – it is called funding the trust and we work with you or for you to ensure it gets done. 
  2. 4)Do you have minor children? If you do, whether you need a will or a trust, I guarantee you need a Kids Protection Plan – and you won’t find that out there online. This ensures that there is a roadmap for your kids, friends, family, and first responders if anything happens to you. This plan will keep your kids out of the hands of strangers and make sure the people you trust to care for them know what is most important to you. Our plan is far more comprehensive than anything else I have seen around. It fills all the gaps I knew were therein “traditional” planning when I first became a parent. 
  3. 5)What type of retirement assets do you have? If you expect to outlive your money, you may want to consider a special retirement trust for your family. This is a very technical, complicated trust and the extra cost and administrative implications aren’t for everyone. This is also firmly in the camp of “don’t try this at home” – it is not a DIY thing you want to look for online.  But the value to your beneficiaries is potentially HUGE if it is the right fit.
  4. 6)Are you able to understand all of the implications that online or DIY plans may create? Even experienced lawyers don’t know all the ins and outs, and there are some pretty important pitfalls people can slide into. Even lawyers. I worked on a plan for a lawyer who doesn’t do estate planning that had a MAJOR flaw in it. It wouldn’t have worked the way she wanted it if she left it as is and she was grateful for the guidance we gave her. 

Ok, now that I have shared with you just some of the big questions that impact the choices available to you (this part is really important – we won’t tell you what you need, we educate you about your choices and you ultimately make the decision about what kind of plan you want), here’s just a bit more on what to consider before we get to the pricing…. And I share all this information because I care enough to help you make the right decision. If you are planning to make the decision on price alone, that’s not the best factor upon which to base your decision. 

What are the costs of not having a plan? For a will-based plan, the filing fees, legal fees, and other fees that go into handling an estate can easily outweigh the cost of doing a solid plan that keeps your family out of probate court. Even if all goes smoothly and the cost of probate is the equivalent of doing a proper plan, the stress you save your family going through a process that is out of their control (and ties up your assets for months) is likely immeasurable. If you own real estate, it can take months, yes, months, to get the probate court to approve the sale of real estate. That can be really stressful if the market is moving quickly (leaving you locked in to an out of date price in a purchase and sale agreement) or that is the estate’s primary asset and nobody has extra money to pay the expenses associated with the real estate until a sale is approved. 

Another consideration is what happens if you’re incapacitated and nobody can make decisions on your behalf or access your bank account to pay your bills, or worse, your family’s bills? It means someone has to find a lawyer, go to probate court, and get appointed to take care of that stuff. 

Does that sound appealing? I can speak only for myself in saying, “No way.” What do you think?

If you have read this far, I hope you have a better understanding of what the value is in working with an estate planning attorney who will ask the right questions and share with you what you need to know to make your own decision. If you know that you want to do that, well, here is your answer to “what does it cost?”

Our plans begin at $1,500 for a single person with no minor children, up to more than $10,000 for a more complicated situation. Most people that we work with, however, fall within the range of $4,000 to $6,000. 

You can find lawyers who charge less, you can find lawyers who charge more. You can do it yourself for less. Those are all indisputable facts. What matters most, however, is answering the question for yourself… of what matters most.

Trust your gut. 

If you are confident that you will make the right choices on your own and don’t need help, then go for it. If you do need help, then trust your gut in choosing a legal team you think cares enough about you and your family to be there to answer questions, to get what you need when you need it, to offer support and referrals to other sources beyond the four walls of the law office and the four corners of your documents. Because, truthfully, you can find documents anywhere. It’s the relationship, knowledge, and experience that ensures your family has what it needs. 

So there you have it. The answer to one of the most frequently asked questions. 

If you are interested in learning more or finding out how we can work together, call, email, or contact us online and we can start that process. If you want to get to know us better, join our newsletter list. We share a lot about who we are, how we operate, and what is important in our own lives. We also share a recipe just about every week. Some people stay on our list just for that.

We look forward to educating and serving you. 

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About the Author

Angela discovered the joys of taking deep breaths, stopping to listen for the sake of listening (instead of for the sake of waiting for a chance to respond), assuming the best of intent behind people’s actions, and general mindfulness after experiencing a major life change in recent years and brings a bit of that to every client interaction. She has found her life (personal and professional) and tennis game have improved dramatically as a result. Namaste!