YOU SHOULD BUY ADVICE FROM ATTORNEYS,
NOT LIVING TRUST FORMS!
What attorneys actually sell in the Living Trust field, and why.
Why some attorneys charge more than others.
Where to Obtain Form Books
Where to Obtain Standard Forms
Problems and Benefits of Standard Forms and Forms Books
Attorneys Who Sell Advice vs. Attorneys Who Sell Forms
Dear Mr. Miller: I think that living trusts are just a way for lawyers to further line their pockets. I’ve surveyed the field and lawyers charge anywhere from $450 to $2,500 for this document. They also charge sky-high rates for wills, real estate purchase contracts, or even incorporations. These services are no more than providing forms. In our computer age that’s ridiculous. I’ve found that many of these documents are now available on computer software and I can print them on my own little home computer. Some of this software is very cheap ($50 – $100) and it will turn out a document that is letter perfect. Attorneys are nothing more than purveyors of forms. One attorney I saw for a living trust did nothing more than take down the information and input it into his computer. Why can’t lawyers just kick out the document on their computer and charge you a reasonable fee? Any more than that is highway robbery! — In Pursuit of Justice
Dear Pursuit: Somewhere along the line, people have lost sight of what a lawyer really does (or is supposed to do). Contrary to popular opinion, lawyers are not sellers of documents; rather, they are sellers of advice. In fact, the dictionary defines a lawyer as one whose profession is to give legal advice and assistance to clients.
To illustrate this misconception, we once had a gentlemen walk into our office and propose to our secretary that, without telling me, she should print out a living trust at the computer. He offered to pay her $50 for her trouble. Fortunately, the secretary refused. But even had she not been so loyal, the problem would have been which trust in the computer memory bank would she print out, as I have a myriad of different forms, each with a significant number of alternate paragraphs and clauses and each with its own significant income, death, and gift tax ramifications. Simply put, form books or computer forms are not a substitute for a good attorney who sells advice. However, if your attorney sells forms, they may be a very good substitution for him.
Interestingly, most of these clauses and forms are found in form books which are available to the general public at the local County Law Library. So there is no secret about obtaining a “living trust” form or most other legal forms. The trick, or more properly, the professional advice for which you are paying, is knowing which form and which paragraph are appropriate to each individual client and his tax and other circumstances.
Admittedly, there are standard forms that exist for standard circumstances and these are readily available to the general public. For example, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care from a state medical association, Durable Power of Attorney for non-Health Care (for very simple situations) and Wills (for people with very limited amounts of property) from the local stationery store, and real estate purchase contracts from the local Board of Realtors.
The problem, of course, is that unless very limited amounts of money or property are involved, without consulting an attorney, you don’t know if you and your situation fall within the definition of standard or simple. But, if not a standard situation, these simple forms, or even the computer software forms, have their merits. By completing such a form and then having it reviewed by an attorney, you may be able to save yourself some money and help the attorney do a better job. The form will force you to focus on certain items and issues and by the time you see the attorney you will have a better idea of what you want and will be better able to discuss the situation with the attorney.
Simply put, attorneys who sell advice can be worth their weight in gold; attorneys who sell forms often are not worth the cost of the paper they use. (See my Estate Planning FAQ, Should I Do It Myself Without An Attorney or: What’s The Difference Between A Valid Trust and An Effective One? for more information on this.)
Please keep in mind that no two sets of circumstances are identical and that the answer to any legal problem may change drastically based on even a slight change in the circumstances.