What Are You Really Looking For: Lowest Price or Best Value?

I recently received the following anonymous reader comment to my earlier post entitled “How Much Does a Will Cost”:

“Bogus. A generic will should cost $x. A will with multiple people inheriting should cost $ x+y. A will with extraordinary circumnstances should cost x+(y to nth power). BALL PARK figures, please. Plug in X (average hours * avg hourly rate). Help us out here….”

I heard the frustration and wanted to respond adequately, which became longer than a mere responsive comment, so here it is:

Dear Anonymous,

Sure, you can go to a lawyer who might price a Will according to the formula you suggested. However, if you do, you likely will only get that Will. If you have any questions or concerns or want to review and discuss drafts to ensure you understand them and they’re accomplishing your wishes and goals, that will likely mean extra hourly fees. And when your life and circumstances (personal and financial) change, you will need to alter that Will, and then that lawyer (or another if you’ve not established any kind of ongoing relationship) will likely charge you similarly by the hour to make any necessary and appropriate changes. More likely, however, you’ll be so turned off by the experience of being billed hourly that way you won’t want to call back and get billed for those changes. I do not charge hourly rates as I believe it discourages communication with my clients and leads to mutual dissatisfaction.

Once you have your Will, that other lawyer won’t likely reach out to you again because he’ll be too busy looking for his next hourly fees, so your Will will become stale and likely fail to accomplish its intended purpose, to protect and provide for those you love most. They will then bear the costs, emotionally, practically, and financially for your choice now to hire a traditional lawyer to do your Will that way. In contrast, I develop lasting relationships and maintain frequent communication with my clients. I also conduct regular reviews of their plans to ensure that they work when their families need them to most. I became a lawyer because I genuinely wanted to help make people’s lives easier and better. My work history as a lawyer bears that out and it remains a guiding principle in my practice.

Perhaps most important to understand is what you pay for when you hire a lawyer. Anyone with a computer and word processor can type up some generic documents and follow a form. What you pay a lawyer for really is her legal advice and counseling based on a combination of her knowledge of the law and its application to your individual circumstances guided by your goals. A lawyer who spends her days keenly focused on a few discrete areas of the law will be better prepared to counsel and advise her clients in depth than one who does a little of everything all the time. As I’ve said before, you wouldn’t go to a podiatrist for a heart bypass or call an electrician to fix your bathtub.

Finally, a very common misperception is that all one needs is “a simple Will.” Yet a will is only one component of any complete estate plan. With only a will you are neglecting many other important pieces of the puzzle. By your own example, someone with “extraordinary circumstances” likely needs more complex estate planning, including one or more trusts in addition to the other critical estate planning documents.

Ultimately you need to ask yourself whether you are most interested in price-shopping for the lowest priced Will or you are looking for the best value for a uniquely-crafted estate plan by a lawyer with whom you can build a lifelong relationship and who will serve as your family’s personal lawyer and trusted confidential advisor. Make sure you’re really comparing apples to apples.

Best wishes,
Danielle

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About Danielle G. Van Ess

Danielle G. Van Ess is a Massachusetts (born and raised), experienced estate planning and small business attorney who helps her clients protect and preserve what matters most to them. To learn more, please visit: dgvelaw.com or call: 781-740-0848

3 thoughts on “What Are You Really Looking For: Lowest Price or Best Value?

  1. As a Florida estate planning attorney with your same philosophy, I completely agree, Danielle. Beware the lawyers (or their office or website)that can quote you a fee for services without knowing a thing about your financial situation, family dynamics, etc. In my opinion, you're probably no better off than buying some forms at the local office supply store. With a competent, caring estate planning attorney, they will take the time to get to know you and your situation first, advise you of options and issues that you may not have thought about, and then quote you a fee based on the design of the plan that best fits your needs. After all, one size never fits all! Many attorneys, like myself, also offer their clients free consultations so you can make sure there will be a “good fit” between you and the attorney.

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  2. Great response! As a New York estate planner I pick up my phone daily to either the question “how much?” or the almost as popular “I need a trust.” I ask these callers what their goals are, whether they are planning for retirement, if they have a special needs child or perhaps a teen about to turn 18. Usually the caller understands at that point that they will be receiving personal service. Thank you for continuing to educate the public in these important matters.

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