Q. Approximately how much would I pay for a living trust if my only asset is my duplex? - Sharon; Carmichael, CA
A. I strongly recommend that you create a complete set of estate planning documents when you create a revocable living trust, including a "pourover" will, powers of attorney for finances and health care, and deeds or other transfer paperwork to move assets into the trust. Each of these related documents serves a necessary and very specific function in a complete estate plan - the trust avoids probate and provides for the disposition of assets upon death, the will directs that certain assets not already in the trust be "poured over" into the trust, and the powers of attorney provide a mechanism for someone to handle your health decisions and financial affairs if you become incapacitated.
The cost of estate planning varies by lawyer and location. You want to work with someone who does estate planning as all or a substantial portion of his or her practice. Based on my inquiries to local attorneys, rates for a simple estate plan (including a complete set of documents) range from approximately $1,500 to around $4,500 for a single person with straightforward assets, and the rates will be higher as more planning issues need to be addressed. Variables affecting the cost include the number of beneficiaries you want to name in your trust, the planning issues related to those persons, how customized you want the documents to be, how responsive you are in providing the information needed, and how long it takes you to make the necessary decisions. Some attorneys will charge a fixed rate, while others charge by the number of hours it takes to prepare the plan. Make sure you fully understand up front the manner in which you will be charged. Choose a lawyer you trust and with whom you are comfortable discussing personal matters. Referrals from a trusted adviser or friend or family member will steer you in the right direction.