Fees and Costs of Estate Planning

How do I find an attorney who will charge me a fair and reasonable fee?

Attorneys who do more than provide clients with standard forms planning should be appropriately compensated. Most attorneys are dedicated professionals who are trained by experience to listen carefully to the facts, and provide solutions and results that give value to the client and lead to peace of mind.

While a fee may sometimes seem large, its size in relation to the value of the service and to the methodology employed in achieving a particular result is generally relatively small.

To evaluate your attorney’s fee quotes, you might consider:

  • The value to you of the services which were provided
  • The skill that went into the result as compared to the skill levels of other attorneys you did not select
  • The money relief in saved costs, expenses, and taxes provided to you and your family
  • The speed with which the result may be obtained, and your confidence in the professional, his or her process, and the likely results

What are the various types of fee arrangements used by attorneys?

Attorneys use various types of billing methods which include:

  • The hourly rate: the attorney and the attorney’s colleagues, associates, paralegals, and assistants all charge for their time at standard hourly rates allocated to the values of their respective time as chosen by the attorney. Progress billings are usually sent out monthly. Time records are typically kept in increments of one-tenth of an hour (i.e., 6 minute segments), one-sixth (10 minute segments), or one quarter (15 minute intervals) of an hour, depending upon the standard practice of the particular attorney.
  • Value-added billing: in addition to standard hourly billing, the client is billed for any significant or unusual value that is added by the attorney’s efforts. This type of billing is generally used when an attorney comes up with a particularly innovative solution that has great economic value to the client.
  • Contingency fees: The amount of the attorney’s fee is contingent upon successful results being achieved for the client in the particular matter. The amount of the fee is expressed as a fraction or percentage of the amount of the client’s recovery or the savings generated by the attorney’s efforts.
  • Flat or fixed fees: The attorney and client agree in advance on the amount that will be charged for the particular matter regardless of the time spent or the results achieved.
  • Combination fees: Typically an hourly rate or contingency fee is charged, but there is a guaranteed maximum.
  • Retainer: The attorney charges a fixed amount for undertaking representation. Depending on the circumstances, the amount of the retainer can be neither nonrefundable or applied against another billing method agreed upon by the attorney and the client.

Because of the nature of estate planning legal work, contingency fees are not generally appropriate. Estate planning services are usually performed by experienced estate planning attorneys on either a straight hourly rate basis, an hourly rate with a guaranteed maximum, a value-added billing arrangement, or a flat of fixed fee. A retainer may or may not be required depending upon the attorney’s policies.

What factors will the attorney take into account in establishing his or her fee for an estate plan?

Fees are often determined by using some or all of the following factors:

  • Cost of doing business: The amount of overhead and other expenses involved in running the practice are usually considered.
  • Credentials: The attorney’s level of expertise, reputation, and achievements usually affect billing.
  • Time requirements: Emergencies and unusually quick timelines almost always generate value-added billings.
  • Responsibility and liability: The degree of responsibility and liability that must be assumed by the attorney plays a huge role in determining the fee.
  • Value of the estate: The complexity, nature, and value of the assets that comprise the estate are generally always taken into consideration.
  • Results and benefits: The economic value resulting from the avoidance of winding up an estate and ancillary administration and the money value of saving estate, donations, income, capital gain, and other taxes are always taken into consideration in determining the appropriate billing.
  • Complexity: The involvement of extraordinary legal, financial or business issues is important to the billing decision.
  • Novelty: The novelty of the issues presented and the question, “Are the issues routine or uniquely difficult?” play a large part in the billing decision.
  • Service: The speed and the overall level of service provided throughout the relationship are important to many attorneys. If the attorney determines that a particular client demands right-now service, the billing will usually be higher.
  • Time: how much time did the attorney spend on the matter that could not be spent on other equally or more profitable matters?

 

DR MERVIN MESSIAS

JD (Juris Doctor) / BA, LLB (Wits) / TEP (Trust & Estate Practitioner) / MTP (Master Tax Practitioner – S.A)

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