How Much Does It Cost To Set Up a Living Trust?

May 5, 2017
Estate Planning Living Trusts Trust Administration

The most common choice you have when setting up an estate plan is the choice between a Will and a Living Trust.  A Will is always a one-way ticket to probate, unless your estate falls below a minimum threshold of value.   In many states the minimum threshold is about $50,000.  In California, that threshold is $150,000, except that if real estate is part of your estate, the threshold falls to $75,000.

One of the primary benefits of a living trust is that it allows your estate to be managed and distributed by your chosen successor trustee and avoid the probate process altogether.

The cost of a living trust will often be 3 to 5 times more than the cost of preparing a will.  In the short term, a Will would seem to be more economical.  But think again.  When your estate goes through probate, as most often happens when you have chosen a will, the costs of the probate administration will usually run between 5% to 10% of the gross value of your estate.  Even with a modest $200,000 estate, the probate-related cost could run your estate $10,000 to $20,000, or more.

Consider that you are looking to design a plan to most effectively and efficiently pass your legacy that took a lifetime to create to your heirs.  That is no small thing and you should strongly consider working with an attorney sufficiently experienced in estate planning.

So what does it cost to have a living trust prepared?  The cost of preparing a living trust is largely a function of an attorney's time.  In order to have a quality living trust prepared that meets the goals you have for your estate and your heirs,  it should take about 10 hours in total time.  The living trust process involves providing education on your various options, completing a detailed fact-finding interview with the attorney, a consultation phase where details of a suitable plan can be discussed,  document drafting and review, delivery and execution with a Notary, and finally funding your trust, meaning the process of retitling assets to your trust.

Therefore, the cost of preparing a living trust is often a function of what the attorney charges for his or typical normal hourly rates.  In some states, average attorney’s fees are more or less than those in other states.   Within each state, often the higher the average rate, the more experience the attorney has in these matters.  With that being said, if you are working with an attorney who charges $250 per hour, then the cost of preparing your living trust will probably be about $2,500. If you are working with an attorney charging an average of $400 per hour, your trust will run closer to $4,000.  One way to examine this when interviewing an attorney is to ask how much her or she charges to create a living trust.   Then ask what their normal hourly rate is for work billed hourly.   If the quote for your trust is less than 10 times his or her normal hourly rate, you are probably not getting the full amount of hours necessary to do a really good job for you.  If the cost for the trust is more than 10 times the normal hourly rate, you are likely not getting the best value for your money.  

Today there are also internet-based, do-it-yourself options springing up.  The problem with these services is that the boiler-plate documents they provide for your use are very limited and as they all say,  “their services are no substitute for a real lawyer.”   This disclaimer is important because they know that you do not likely have the knowledge, training and experience to foresee and plan the most effective estate plan for yourself.   Cheaper here, is not to be confused with better.  Speaking of price, the most popular DIY trust services advertise a low entry price, but when you include the necessary add-ons, which are necessary as opposed to optional, and the costs associated with notarizing, preparing, and recording deeds and other aspects of fully executing your trust, these DIY services will often run you more than $1,000.  Also, you have no recourse if something goes wrong.  Since you are effectively acting as your own lawyer, there is no malpractice or errors and omissions insurance to protect you or your heirs if the plan fails for any number of reasons.

AmeriEstate Legal Plan offers somewhat of a hybrid approach.  Every new client is assigned a team to guide you through each phase.  Experienced trust advisors skillfully educate you on the basic options you have in creating an estate plan and conduct the initial consultation to review each of the choices you will be making and prepare a detailed fact finder for you and the attorney.  

This process has proven to give clients a better framework for understanding the core strategies for their estate planning, understanding the types of decisions they will need to make, and helping to uncover and document issues of importance to you and your family.  In short, you are much better prepared to have an effective consultation with a licensed attorney who can skillfully guide you on finalizing the details of your particular plan.   Our process still utilizes the ten hours or so it takes to craft a well-designed plan both forward facing with you and behind the scenes.  The difference is that using our team-oriented process blends non-attorney experts as well as a personal attorney. The sum total of the services provided are not based on the attorney's hourly rate alone, saving you 30% to 50% off of the fees an attorney would charge you. AmeriEstate's provider attorneys have each created thousands of estate plans, and in private practice, they command some of the higher hourly rates in the specialty of estate planning.  In the end, your costs are not much more than the closest equivalent DIY service, but still you get expert guidance, professional liability protection, and ongoing personal support and customer service to benefit both you and your heirs.  Plus, you can depend on the stability of a company in business for 20 years and the most experienced single source of estate planning excellence in the State, having served more than 40,000 satisfied clients to date.