Estate planning is one of my favorite areas of practice.
For one, clients come to see me because they want to and not because of some unfortunate situation whereby they have to like a divorce, a traffic or criminal charge, an insurance claim, a civil lawsuit, or some other difficulty.
Estate planning clients are usually in a good mood, and they feel a sense of relief that they are finally getting around to addressing their estate plans, which is often a matter they have been thinking and talking about doing for years. And when they come in and we talk about their situation, the sense of “I’m so glad we’re finally doing this” is usually palpable and positive.
A question I am commonly asked in the first telephone call is “how much for a will?”
My usual response is: “Well, I hardly ever just write a will. We go over a number of issues in the estate-planning process, including discussion of non-probate transfers, a last will and testament, possibly beneficiary deeds, powers of attorney, and advanced health directive.”
I base my charges on an hourly rate, I tell them. Usually, with estate planning (although not always), I charge a flat fee based on an estimate of the time the entire project will take to complete, depending on the parties’ situation, so we don’t have to rush our discussions, and I don’t have to keep track of my time for billing.
I tell people, “Let’s just set up a time to come in and talk about your situation, and we’ll figure it out then.”
Different lawyers have different philosophies regarding estate planning. Likewise, people differ on their goals and what is important to them.
Some lawyers believe everybody should have a revocable living trust, where a trust is created and funded by retitling all assets into the name of the trustee as part of the process. I am not a big proponent of revocable living trusts for a variety of reasons, but it’s a question I am often asked about, and I am happy to explain.
For one thing, revocable living trusts are more time consuming and expensive to prepare and fund than the more traditional strategy of non-probate transfers, wills and powers of attorney.
Plus, while sometimes the administration of a revocable living trust upon death can reduce administrative expensive, that’s not always the case, and sometimes the administration process of a deceased party’s living trust can have as many or even more hassles than a probate estate. It all depends on circumstances.
Another issue is effectively maintaining proper funding of a revocable living trust, by retitling all tangible and intangible assets, including financial accounts, real estate, motor vehicles, and the like, and keeping future assets so titled, so that it can have the desired effect. Failure to do that for the rest of one’s life can defeat the purpose of the trust entirely.
One lawyer I know tells the story of a couple that came in to see him some years ago, at the height of the living trust craze, and asked him to go over and explain the living trust they had done with another lawyer.
At the conference table they handed him the folder with the trust document in it, and a bank passbook falls out. The lawyer said: “Oh, here, did you know this was in here?”
“Oh yes,” they replied. “The lawyer told us we needed to put our bank account in the living trust.”
Regardless of what strategies and documents we prepare for estate planning, when clients come in for final review and execution and walk out with their estate planning documents neatly bundled in a package, they are invariably happy, and in a good mood.
For a simple country lawyer, there’s nothing better than that
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.