So you finally get the gumption to call an estate planning lawyer. You’ve done your research, asked friends for referrals, and then you make contact with the lawyer. But when you ask what the lawyer charges, he or she won’t give you a straight answer.
This is frustrating. Is the lawyer trying to hide something? If people are resistant to doing their estate plans, why would the lawyer put up another barrier?
The remainder of this post gives you some answers to these valid questions, with the following caveats:
- These are my viewpoints, and don’t necessarily reflect others’ views.
- My firm tends not to give out quotes upon “first contact”. However, do not presume that all other firms won’t give you a quote upfront.
So for what it’s worth, here are six reasons why estate planning lawyers may avoid providing you a fee quote up front.
Comprehensive vs. Unbundled Estate Planning
Lawyers are always supposed to act in the best interests of the client. Naturally, opinions differ on what this means.
- Comprehensive Estate Planning – Many lawyers believe this means that we must understand your situation entirely before moving forward. Unfortunately, such thoroughness tends to come at a price, which is why online forms or do-it-yourself options gain popularity. These less expensive (and less comprehensive) choices begin to look much more attractive.
- Unbundled Estate Planning – Other lawyers believe that if clients already have some grasp on their own situation, then the client should be free to pick and choose the documents or services that they need. These lawyers will therefore prepare individual documents rather than entire plans for clients (i.e. “unbundled planning”), and are thereby more likely to present their fee structures upfront.
The client actually ends up getting different services from these two approaches. The comprehensive planning is more of a relationship-based arrangement, whereas unbundled planning tends to be more document-driven.
As you might expect, fees for comprehensive estate planning can appear much higher than rates for unbundled planning. This is not necessarily a fair, apples-to-apples comparison.
Therefore, a lawyer may hesitate to provide a range of fees until he or she is certain that the prospective client fully understands what is being offered and can recognize what might otherwise be a prohibitive difference in costs between two firms.
Updating another Lawyer’s Work
Some clients want the lawyer to update or fix a previous lawyer’s work. On the other hand, this can be risky for the lawyer and lawyers don’t want to be sued.
There is the fear amongst lawyers that merely updating another’s work rather than starting from scratch is impliedly endorsing the previous practitioner’s work.
In other words, if the prior lawyer messed up, the fear is that you might turn around and sue the newer practitioner because the latter did not warn you about the earlier lawyer’s mistakes.
Therefore, the lawyer will understandably protect himself or herself by first getting a full understanding of what the prospective client is looking for before presenting fees.
A lawyer might be concerned that while clients may think they know what they need or that they are already covered, they may be mistaken. Estate planning lawyers with any level of experience will likely be able to find some missing pieces in your existing plan even where you think there are none.
If this sounds arrogant, consider your own job and the years of experience it has taken for you to get where you are. What would your reaction be if someone told you, “I can do your job just as well as you can if I do some internet research and buy some software”?
Talking or Meeting First
Your values and needs may not match with the lawyer’s philosophies.
For instance, you might be looking for a simple document, whereas the lawyer may feel you need more complex planning. You might find the lawyer is too pushy (or not pushy enough), the wrong age, or stylishly-challenged. You may not like every lawyer you meet, and yet you’ll be treated as a hungry lawyer’s best friend.
On the other hand, there are plenty of situations where the lawyer may not be able to or want to work with you. For example, a lawyer cannot work with you if he or she is not licensed in your state or if there is some conflict of interest with another client.
Many lawyers are hesitant to provide fees before there is any indication of a match.
You’ll Have Choices
There can certainly be more than one way to accomplish your goals. While a lawyer may lean one way or another, the lawyer will usually present the prospective client with choices.
As there are literally dozens of techniques and drafting strategies available for the client, it is difficult for the lawyer to provide a fee range until the choices can be narrowed down.
There is a concern amongst some estate planning practitioners that telling each other what they charge clients may be evidence of price fixing, which is obviously frowned upon by the government.
We could spend an entire post on why I think this point of view is mistaken. However, lawyers may hesitate to openly share fees because they cannot completely ignore price fixing as a concern.
Do you agree or disagree with these reasons? How would you want these issues to be handled? Feel free to comment below.
- Trust and Estate Lawyers Need to Adapt (lawprofessors.typepad.com)
- How Much Should Estate Planning Documents Cost? (wills.about.com)
- Estate Planning Fees: The Six Levels of Service (estateplanninginfoblog.com)