When possible (and most of the time it is possible), we charge our clients flat fees for estate planning work. That way, our clients will know exactly how much it will cost to have their will, trust, or other estate planning documents prepared.
A Canadian court had this to say about legal services, “A person requiring legal advice does not set out to buy time. Rather the object of the exercise is to buy services.” Our focus is on delivering you the services you want, in the most efficient manner possible.
We prefer flat fees for 4 main reasons:
- Flat Fees Creates Predictability for the Client. Before you choose what services to have us perform, you will know what it will cost. This is much better than receiving a bill in the mail after the fact and being surprised at the number of hours a project took.
- Flat Fees Incentivize us to Work Efficiently. Under the billable hour model, attorneys have a disincentive to leverage past work. Sometimes, you even see attorney’s reinventing the wheel simply because they get to charge for the time they spend “reinventing”. With flat fees, our focus is on working efficiently to provide you with the services and outcome you desire.
- Flat Fees Focus on Value. Our focus is on delivering value to each and every one of our clients. Value means delivering peace of mind today and saving time, money, and energy in the future.
- Flat Fees Lead to Early Assessment and Evaluation of Case. Before entering into a flat fee billing agreement, we will thoroughly assess the matter. We will review and evaluate each known step in the process, determine how much work will be required, and what contingencies may arise. Our flat fee will reflect the amount of work required, the complexity of the matter, the skill set needed, and the value provided. The benefit to you is that you get a clear picture at the beginning of the case, rather than when are half way through the matter.
Flat fees are just another way we deliver value to our estate planning clients throughout Missouri. To learn more, feel free to contract our Cape Girardeau office at 573-334-5125.
At its heart, a revocable living trust is an agreement. Revocable means that the agreement is able to be revoked or amended during the Grantor’s life. Living means that the agreement is made while the individual is alive, as opposed to a testamentary trust which is made through a deceased individual’s Will.
The trust agreement has at least 3 parties:
- The Grantor (aka Settlor, aka Trustor, aka Trust Maker): The Grantor is the person who creates the trust agreement. The Grantor is also typically the person who places assets (money, property, real estate) in the trust. In practice: When a husband and wife come in and ask for a trust, both husband and wife are typically Grantors.
- The Trustee: The trustee is the person who actually holds the trust property and manages it. In designing the trust agreement, the Grantor decides who the initial and successor trustees will be. The most important qualification for a trustee is… someone that you trust! In practice: In the trust described above, typically both husband and wife are initial Trustees. Then they would name a child, children, or other trusted individual as successor trustees.
- The Beneficiary: The beneficiary is the person, persons, or organizations that will receive the income and principal from the trust. In practice: In the trust described above, typically the surviving spouse is the first beneficiary, with the children named as beneficiaries upon the death of the surviving spouse. Distribution to the children can be tied to the child’s age, educational pursuits, or other criteria.
Creating the trust can be divided into 2 parts:
- Part One consists of designing the trust agreement so it meets the Grantor’s goals. Some common goals include: avoiding probate, offering remarriage protection, offering creditor protection (spendthrift protection) to beneficiaries, providing for a child or grandchild’s education, making distributions at certain ages (rather than having a child receive a large lump sum at age 18, it is common to customize distributions to that children receive money periodically as they mature. For example: 1/3 at age 21, 1/3 at age 25, and 1/3 at age 30).
- Part Two consists of ensuring that your property is transferred to your trust, a process we call funding the trust. Often you will want to transfer your real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, personal property, etc.. to your trust. Ensuring your trust is fully funded is the best way to ensure your loved ones can avoid the time and expenses of probate court.
The Missouri Bar advises clients that, “You should never sign a revocable living trust document without the advice of a Missouri attorney who practices in this field of law.” When choosing an attorney, ask them how much of their time they spend practicing estate planning. There are only a few of us in the Cape Girardeau area that practice primarily in estate planning.
Often I have clients schedule an initial consultation to discuss having a Last Will and Testament drafted for them. While I am happy to do this for clients, upon further discussion, most clients realize that what they actually want is something different than a Will.
A Will is great for nominating guardians for minor children. Having a Will is also far better than passing away intestate (that is, without a Will) where default Missouri law controls the management and distribution of your estate rather than it being distributed according to your desires.
Yet, a Will often leads to Probate Court. This is the very thing that most of my clients want to avoid. After all, probate court (1) costs money, (2) consumes your loved one’s time, (3) leaves some decisions up to the local probate judge, and (4) is a matter of public record.
A much better plan is to avoid probate. And in most situations, in Missouri, avoiding probate is not that difficult to do. Clients can avoid probate by using all or some combination of the following:
1. a Revocable Living Trust (RLT) agreement,
2. a Beneficiary Deed for Missouri real estate,
3. a Gift Deed for personal property,
4. Payable on Death provisions for bank accounts,
5. Transfer on Death provisions for vehicles and boats, and
6. Beneficiary Designations for retirement and financial accounts.
Might it cost a little bit of money now to avoid probate later? Probably. Yet, avoiding planning now is being penny wise and pound foolish. One great thing about estate planning is the peace of mind it brings to my clients, that their affairs are in order and their wishes will be carried out.