Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cheapest lawyer may not be best

A will needs scrupulous legal attention

  • Print

Sam needed to prepare a new will and phoned around to find out how much it would cost. He called several lawyers. This is what he learned.

Lawyers quoted fees for the will ranging from a low of $200 to a high of $1,200. He told each lawyer the same thing: that he had assets of about $500,000 and wanted to divide his estate at his death between two children, who were both adult and living here. He also told the lawyers he wanted not just a will, but also a power of attorney and medical directive to deal with his affairs if he became too sick to do so himself. The job he described was the same, but the quoted legal fees were all over the block.

Why the big difference in price from lawyer to lawyer? Low legal fees for wills were the norm 20 or 30 years ago. Estate planning was simpler then. Lawyers often spent a mere 20 minutes with each client. They were also willing to lose money doing the will. In sales terms, it was a "loss leader." The fee for the will was irrelevant: The lawyer's objective was to open the door to handling the estate -- where the fee would be 10 or 20 times larger.

Tax and probate rules have become more complicated. Disputes over estates burn money that would otherwise go to the family. Courts have been clear during the last decade or two: Lawyers are responsible for avoiding those disputes by being very, very careful when doing wills. Even in a simple situation, a lawyer should spend a minimum of an hour or two face to face with the client.

The lower prices for "simple wills" were fixed before that became the reality, and many lawyers feel stuck with it. Some also subscribe to the view that increasing prices loses clients, losing clients loses estates, and losing estates means losing the bigger fees downstream.

The low pricing can be bad. Lawyers are human. They work harder on files that pay more. Thus, the will file can get less attention than it might deserve. That can lead to mistakes.

Other lawyers, the ones charging $1,200, have given up on the traditional business model. They align the size of the fee with the importance of the work and the time they spend. They do not count on getting the estate. The result: Many prospective clients refuse to hire them.

Some people should expect to pay even more. You might have a farm, family business or a cottage. You might be part of a blended family, have a disabled child, U.S. citizenship or have children who live in the United States. You might have a projected estate of more than $2 million or so. People in those categories can easily spend a larger amount, such as $3,000 or perhaps $10,000, on their will and other estate-plan structuring. People who fit several of those categories at once and enjoy wealth with a projected estate of more than $10 million or so, could spend as much as $20,000 or $30,000 for a good estate plan.

Does all this sound crazy? Your will is arguably the most important legal structure you will ever put in place. All of your wealth passes through it. It takes care of the people you love the most. It does that at death, a high-tax environment. Death seems to bring out bad blood, and disgruntled heirs pounce on flaws.

Viewed in that context, the higher prices are not shocking. What is shocking is this: Many people feel they have achieved a job well done if they come home with an old and dented estate plan from the legal bargain bin.

What lessons should you take away from all this? It is counterintuitive, but you may want to look for an expensive estate plan, not a cheap one. There are some areas in life where it makes sense to pay a little extra. They include good shoes, a good mattress and a good estate plan.

If you are compelled to economize, engage in careful comparison shopping. You want the right estate plan, carefully constructed, from a lawyer who takes time to get to know you and your family's needs. Some lawyers still do an exceptional job for a nominal fee.

John E.S. Poyser is a Winnipeg lawyer with the Wealth and Estate Law Group. Contact him at 947-6801 or jpoyser@inksterchristie.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 21, 2012 B8

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Jets' coach discusses team's loss to Red Wings

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Two Canadian geese perch themselves for a perfect view looking at the surroundings from the top of a railway bridge near Lombard Ave and Waterfront Drive in downtown Winnipeg- Standup photo- May 01, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Young goslings jostle for position to take a drink from a puddle in Brookside Cemetery Thursday morning- Day 23– June 14, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should the federal government force band chiefs and councillors to disclose their salary information?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google