Trusts & Estates Law/Estate
QUESTION: Mr. Fritzler I would like some direction on wills/death. From the start of making a will how much do I really need an attorney for? I don't want to spend money for things I can do myself. Right now I am concerned with my parents and doing as much as I can. After they pass how much do I actually need an attorney for? And for putting together a will and some form of a trust also, what is a reasonable fee from an attorney?
All your advice and direction would be greatly appreciated.
ANSWER: Let's first clarify what a Will can do for you.
A will can do very little (for you#. A will DOES declare who would be the guardian of your minor children. That is what it DOES for you, all that it DOES for you.
A will normally names an executor. That DOES a great thing for the attorney if they are named as executor, guaranteed income in the future.
A will normally makes a list of assets and connects a name to those assets. A Will DOES NOT insure that those assets will be passed to those people. A will is only a list of suggestions to the probate court. If no one opposes the list of suggestions then the probate court may agree to follow those suggestions. BUT, if there is opposition, then the probate court may not follow those suggestions.
If you die without a will #intestate#, then the probate court will still make the decisions about how your assets will be distributed, following a well defined and common process of Creditors first, if no creditors then spouse, if no spouse then kids, if no kids then parents, if no parents then grandkids, then siblings, then nieces and nephews, etc.
Is a will important? If you have minor Children, I'd say yes. Is there any magic voodoo verbiage that can be put in a will to make it a Superwill? No.
Are some wills more interesting to read than others? Probably.
Could a will become an important family historical document? Yes.
Could it, if well written have a profound or even minor affect on someone's life? Maybe.
Has the role of "Attorney" ever been influential in any of these? No. Some attorney's may be great writers, and their writing skills, articulation, command of the language and artistic style may have improved an otherwise dull will.
If you truly want an impressive will the Probate Courts are public, you can find some examples of great wills to read.
So if a Will does not do much. . . ?
That is where a "Good" trust can make a difference.
However, no one can create a "Good" trust for you.
That sound harsh, doesn't it. Let me explain:
A Good Trust, is a funded trust. That means all personal assets are properly transferred to the name of the trust. No one, other than you, can transfer your assets for you. An attorney cannot contact the bank or brokerage firm and have your personal accounts transferred into the name of the trust. The attorney can draft a document (no voodoo verbiage here either) that notifies the bank of the transfer but you need to execute it. The attorney cannot transfer your house into your trust, you have to do that. The same with all other assets both registered and unregistered assets.
A Good Trust, addresses all your assets. Any assets that are not included remain in your personal estate and are probated. No attorney can even know all of the assets you have. You have to make sure the list is complete.
A Good Trust adapts and changes as the assets and needs change. When you trade in your car, your attorney won't know that and can't make the proper changes to the trust. You have to do that.
So a good trust is one that you understand, and can manage long term, knowing that it will have to be dynamic, changing and adapting to changes of assets and people.
What can an attorney do?
If s/he is a good attorney, s/he can make the learning curve smoother, s/he can help you make the list of assets more complete, s/he can simplify the process of notification of transfer. S/He can handle follow up and completion of transfers. S/He can discuss with you the current laws and taxes and whether they will have any impact on your estate.
What else can an attorney do, that might not be for you? If s/he is a truly a great person s/he can take the responsibility of Executor and relieve your heirs of the inconvenience of that position. S/He needs to do that well, efficiently and effectively. That comes at a cost. An attorney deserves to get paid to do those types of jobs well.
But, law school, bar exam, and title do make any attorney a great person.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Mr.fritzler I totally agree with the cost and time someone does to go to law school, and agree you pay for that. And I feel I would like to have a trust done for my parents and me also. My next problem is not sure how to say this, But a lot of attorneys seem to forget what there job actually is and the priority is not 100% in the right place, Also a lot of attorneys may have gone through law school and did all the process, but really don't have the inner skills to be a good attorney, But want to charge you fees like a good/great attorney does. So my question is any tips to looking for an attorney? And I know you cant answer this 100%, but just a rough number would be helpful, What is a fair cost for a attorney to charge to setup a trust and if wanted execute it?
All your advice would be helpfull.
Thank you very much Mr.Fritzler
I completely concur. Attorney's as a group don't deserve the praise, or homage that they are given. Some Attorney's are great at some things, and it would be great to find that attorney for the thing that you need.
Your questions really go in two different directions, so let me take the most relevant one first. "How do I go about getting a GOOD Trust done?"
My answer is DIY, if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. Going it completely alone can seem daunting. Not knowing where to start or where you want to end.
One ultimate advantage of a true DIY, once you go through it the first time, you have no fear of going through it again. The trust is not a sacred document, it is a workbook.
That means that if you really do build it yourself, you can amend it, fix it, adjust it, expand it and tweak it whenever you want or need. And there will be those times. A trust is a system, and the more intimate you are with that system the better you will be at managing it. Not intending to wax too poetic, let's use a vegetable garden as a simile. If you want the garden to produce it will take recurring care. You can call your favorite landscape architect, and he could design in the most exotic vegetable list from around the world, and have a well paid landscaper put the seeds in the ground, and set the sprinkler timer. Will that produce an abundant crop? or will it take the occasional pruning, and thinning, and watering adjustments, and harvesting, and fertilizing?
Whether you started on your own and planted the vegetables that you and your family actually would eat, or you have professionals do their job on what they think is important, won't you as the gardener need to ramp up to the same knowledge of soil amendment, weather, crop management? In practicality won't it take longer to start after the crops are planted to get up to speed.
Could you have the landscaper come back every three weeks, do some soil testing and check weather reports and make adjustments? Yes, spendy. . .
But when you start eating the vegetables and you find out that your family is not a spaghetti squash and ghost pepper fan club, that the rainbow carrots look interesting but taste less so, Then you have to start taking control of the garden again and make the decisions about what is going to be planted.
Your Garden doesn't have to be perfect from the start, if are involved and decide that Tomatoes and Green beans are something you forgot you can get those in the ground immediately. It might not look the best, but the real results will be far more satisfying.
As with all legal documents:
There is no voodoo verbiage.
Occam's Razor applies
It should be in line with YOUR goals and concerns.
All estate planning attorneys use forms and templates. You can buy forms and templates, you could even buy expensive forms and templates, or you can view and copy forms and templates from other trusts and other people that have trusts.
The hardest part is the first part. Make a list of all your assets. Whether you go to an attorney, or go to a Free coffee and donuts seminar promoter, at some point this list will need to be made. So, make it.
You could take any reasonable trust document, wite-out the names and personal information, hand write in with a pen all of your information and you would have a legitimate trust. Now that the hard part is over, let's dress up our garden.
You could by a book about trusts, or software, or forms on line. All of these are beneficial if you are going to see an attorney, so that YOU can determine if the person that you are going to employ is knowledgeable enough to do a decent job for you.
An attorney is your employee, if you don't know enough about his job, to assess his capabilities then you will never find a good one. And if you leave the job description for him/her to define then it will never be a reasonable cost job.
If you wrote a trust for yourself, and then asked him to make recommendations for changes #and those recommendations must be explained in writing# then you would have a defined a job, and would be able to assess his work and get a pretty good idea what it would cost. If your trust was 6 pages with attachments listing and describing specific assets. I would guess the attorney would be able to read it with intent in 1/2 an hour, re-read it with a marker in another half an hour and go about making a written recommendation list in 2-3 hours. If he charges $200 an hour, then. . .
Or you could pay him $800 to fill out a questionnaire including that list, have a friendly chat, have his assistant transcribe your questionnaire information and that list of assets that you gave him into a standardized template software, which will spit out page after page of unreadable legalese and well formatted documents for you to take to your bank, the DMV, the County Recorder, etc.
Then when you remember an asset you forgot, or you find that the form the software produced has a misspelling, you can schedule another appt with him. . .
Your second direction was what is the process to find a good attorney.
Your best bet is to build a fantasy legal team. If the world was all sunshine and roses, a law firm would be a group of attorneys that specialized in different parts of the law. And each would be the best at what he does.
The parts of the law are NOT the different types of law that can be claimed #criminal, family, business, estate, etc.#. The different parts are the processes within the law. Some attorneys are good at litigation, others should be good at legal pleading writing, still others should be good at legal research, and the list goes on, if you have more attorneys in your fantasy law firm you might have one that just does depositions, or that only writes interrogatories. Maybe you have room on your team for one to write contracts.
Once you start to put your team together, you can select which of your team members would best function at each play of the game.
If all you have a single, lowest bid, utility player, don't expect to win any games. In this fantasy law league, you can be a player coach, that means that if you don't have the best player in a game, you can come on the field and assist your player. Your lack of skill is made up for by your drive, willingness and commitment. While your attorney's lack of drive willingness and commitment can never be adequately compensated merely by skill.
How do you scout your team? It takes time. It takes time, an hour at a time. Interview. Talk to attorney's most will give a 1/2 hour consult free. Don't take your case #or trust# and ask for their help. the help comes after you are on the paying clock.
Ask them about their method of practice.
Ask what they think is their best part in the law.
Ask for validation.
If they say they are a great litigator, ask for the transcript of their last 4 hearings.
If they are a great writer ask for copies of a few recent pleadings.
For litigators, you won't find one that actually gets the transcripts of a hearing for their own review. But they should. How can they actually know how good they were unless they can see the instant replay?
If they are a great trust writer, ask to see examples of some trusts that they wrote.
It is difficult to build a good team. It is catastrophic #and probably bankrupting# to go forward having to play a single utility player.