The cost of any legal endeavor depends on whether you decide to handle it yourself or use the services of an attorney. You can access free templates online or pay for something more complex, or you can pay an attorney to do it all for you. Whether you use an attorney to draft your will or do it yourself, costs will depend on the complexity of your estate. If neither option appeals to you, you can compromise on a “hybrid” approach.
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Using an Attorney
Some attorneys who specialize in estate matters offer will “packages." Don't confuse these with those you might purchase online or at an office supply store. Attorney packages usually include at least one meeting with the lawyer. The attorney then draws up your will according to your specifications. If you’re requesting only a will, the minimum cost can run from $150 to $600, for an average cost of about $375. If any complications or problems arise, the attorney might bill you for more time at his hourly rate. If you want more than just a will, such as a power of attorney and other estate planning documents, the cost can rise to $1,000 if you’re single or $1,500 if you’re married and requesting joint documents.
Purchasing a will kit and creating your own documents is a far less expensive alternative than using a lawyer, but you get what you pay for. Kits tend to be generic, and you run the risk that the forms you purchase will not adequately address your personal situation or meet your state's laws. Some websites sell them for as little as $10, although others charge as much as $650 for an entire package of documents, including a living will and powers of attorney for both your finances and health care.
If you choose to write your own will, either by using a kit or by accessing free formats to follow from your state’s website or a library, you can safeguard against errors by having an attorney review your completed document. In this case, you would pay the attorney by the hour, as opposed to a flat fee for combined consulting and writing your will or all your estate documents. Attorneys’ hourly rates are generally more affordable in rural areas and higher in large metropolitan areas. The former can average as little as $100 an hour; the latter might average $400 an hour or more. Plan on the attorney spending at least one hour on the review of your documents. If you require complex needs such as trust formation then expect more time and a larger bill.
Your inability to afford an attorney or a high-priced will kit does not necessarily mean you do not need a will. Wills can address guardianship of your children as well as financial issues, assets and bequests. All states offer legal aid to low-income individuals, although income limits may vary. The average cost is usually minimal and if your income is low enough, services are sometimes free. Check the Internet or your local telephone directory for legal aid in your area.