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Financial Literacy - Planning for your heirs
See a pro for estate planning
Estate plans need professional evaluation, says this estate planning professor.
Planning for your heirs

Spotlight: Ted Kurlowicz

I had one client come in one time where she got to the end of her Internet estate planning package and it came time to enter the credit card number and then it spit it back with a disclaimer saying that she should have her own attorney review the plan. Then she made an appointment with me to review it, and actually they were pretty good documents, pretty good instructions, but I wouldn't have charged her in a simple will case maybe even as much as she spent on the Internet package. She could've had an attorney do this and maybe spent about the same amount of money.

How much should people expect to pay an attorney to create a will?

Plan for your heirs
Who needs estate planning?
What is de facto estate planning?
Who should evaluate an estate plan?
What does a will cover?
How much should a will cost?
When should people revisit their plan?

A simple will really should cost between $50 and $500. For a tax-planning will you've got to look at how many different pieces are going together with this. If it's just the standard formula for using up the exemption amount, this could go from $500 to $5,000. If there are irrevocable living trusts that go along with it -- because they're irrevocable, people's liability lasts a long time -- that's a document that's going to be four figures. If somebody is starting to get close to paying five figures for the package, usually, at least in my opinion, the family should have a lot of money and there has to be a lot of implementation steps that go along with this that somebody is doing for them. Because it doesn't do anybody any good just to put a good document in place. You've got to make sure all those other "who" questions have been answered correctly and if they haven't, they have to be changed and coordinated and assets have to be retitled at times. And if somebody's handling all this, it's reasonable that you would run up some fees.

How often should people revisit their estate plan?

A simple will really should cost between $50 and $500.

First, people should revisit their estate plan whenever there's a significant event: a marriage, a change of marital status, adding children, grandchildren, any dramatic changes in feelings toward any of the beneficiaries, winning the lottery or the approach to retirement. Otherwise, I'd say every three years, pick up the documents and look them over. Maybe at one time it made sense saying, "keep the kid's money in trust until 35," but now the kid's 28 and is pretty well-grounded, running a business or a professional practice, got his own family. It doesn't really make any sense to tie his money up anymore. Those are the types of things that come up quickly, even to a client, when they start reading the documents.

-- Posted: Nov. 19, 2007
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