What response would you expect to get if you called your doctor’s office and asked, “How much do you charge for an amoxicillin prescription?”
Probably an incredulous: “Uh, we need to see you before we can prescribe medication.”
Maybe you push your luck. “It’s just a simple sore throat.”
Certain response: “Unless the doctor sees you, we have no idea whether you have a virus, a bacterial infection, or something far more serious.”
How about your mechanic? “Yeah, my car is making a rattling sound at low speeds. How much do you charge to fix that?”
Certain response: “We need to see the car. Is it a loose bolt or is your timing belt about to go? The range of possibilities differs by thousands of dollars.”
You again: “It’s just a simple rattle. I’m sure you just need to tighten a few bolts.”
Certain response: “This is ridiculous. I have no way to know whether tightening anything will fix your problem until I see the car.”
We Need To See You
If the idea of expecting your doctor or your auto mechanic to tell you how much it will cost to fix your ailment over the phone, sight unseen, seems too obviously absurd to contemplate, that’s because it is. Of course your doctor or mechanic would need to see you or your car to have any idea what you need!
Yet, when it comes to estate planning, we frequently encounter an expectation among potential clients that there’s a one-size-fits-all solution, inevitably described to us as a “simple will,” and that we can quote the price for it over the phone without knowing anything about you.
If you do find an attorney or other estate planning solution willing to tell you how much your estate plan will cost before they know anything about you, it’s a giant red flag that should send you running the other direction. Clearly, they have decided that the best way to make money is to apply a generic solution to a highly individualized problem. It’s like the cheeseburger restaurant from the classic Saturday Night Live skit – no matter what you want or need, you’re getting a cheeseburger!
But we’re not talking about cheeseburgers here. We’re talking about planning for some of the most difficult and challenging events you and your family will go through together. To be sure, there are people for whom a simple will is absolutely the right document. But before we can determine whether you are one of those people, we need to have a conversation with you about some of your most intimate beliefs and thoughts.
Your Estate Plan Conveys Some Of Your Most Intimate Thoughts and Beliefs to Your Friends and Family
Are you married? Do you and your spouse agree on what your plan should say? Do you or your spouse have kids from previous relationships? Are your kids minors or adults? Do any of your kids have special needs? Do your kids get along with one another, and even if it seems like they do, has their relationship ever really been put to the test by a stressful situation? Do you know how your kids would handle a windfall? Is there anything about your kids’ lives – e.g., a troubled marriage, a high liability profession, a lack of spending discipline, etc. – that might call for putting some restrictions in place on how they (and they creditors) could get to that money? What type of assets do you own and how are they titled?
What about you? What are your attitudes and beliefs about end-of-life medical treatment? Does your family have any idea about how you would like to be memorialized and laid to rest, and do they all agree to follow your wishes? Who would you want speaking to your doctors for you if you couldn’t speak for yourself?
The answers to these highly personal questions have a significant impact on what type of estate plan is right for you and how much your estate plan will cost. It is entirely possible that, after thinking through these questions, we will conclude that a simple plan, with a will that leaves your assets outright to your beneficiaries, is the right answer. In other cases, ignoring your particular needs, and just giving you the simple solution, would be the equivalent of prescribing antibiotics to someone with throat cancer, or tightening a lug nut for someone whose brakes are about to fail. Not just inadequate, but dangerous. Maybe even immoral.