Friday, August 28, 2009

Why Use An Attorney To Set Up A Family Trust?

Why Use An Attorney To Set Up a Family Trust?

The Answer is quite simple: FOR EXPERT LEGAL ADVICE.

"Fill in the blank" trust forms have always been available from the stationery store. Financial planners and other non-lawyers have also been out selling trusts to the elderly for many years. Now the latest rage is legalzoom and other on-line sites sell trusts.

These on-line sites like legalzoom are simply a computerized version of the "fill in the blank" forms you could always buy at the stationery store.

It is unfortunate that trusts are treated like a commodity by some people, like a can of beans on a shelf at the super market.

A family trust is a legal document that carries out certain objectives for the client. There is wide range of types of trusts and various ways in which trusts can be put together, and coordinated with other legal mechanisms. There is no one trust that fits everyone because everyone's situation is unique.

When a trust is viewed like a can of beans, then the client starts looking for the cheapest can of beans or one with a savings coupon this week.

The client instead should look at finding a good attorney that the client can develop a relationship with; an attorney who knows the client's situation, the client's needs, and the client's objectives. The family trust is a product of the relationship with the attorney, not just a product by itself.

At the heart of the relationship is the ADVICE. Advice is what separates out the estate planning lawyer from legalzoom and the like.

Sure, legalzoom is cheaper. But, after the clients pay for the extras on legalzoom (in addition to the advertised price), and receives the documents by mail, the clients have to take them to a notary to sign them. For a married couple, they will probably have 5 documents which will need notarizing. At $10 per signature, the statutory rate for a notary in California. The client will end up paying another $100.

A trust estate plan through legalzoom will end up costing hundreds of dollars, and in the end, for an average client, they will have saved about $200-$300 over an attorney prepared estate plan.

I spend anywhere from 2-4 hours in the initial consultation and the signing meeting with clients. I listen to their needs, and discuss all of the options available to them. They can call me anytime during the process and ask follow up questions or change their mind about decisions prior to the signing of the documents. And there are no additional charges or costs for those calls.

After the signing of the documents and the establishment of the estate plan, clients are free to call me about questions or concerns, and most of those calls are not billed by me. My relationship with my clients continue for years as we stay in contact with each other to ensure that the estate plan is kept up to date.

I often say that I don't charge clients for a phone call to answer a question, but if you send me to the law library for a research project on an obscure topic, I will probably have to bill them for it.

The value of the extra $200-$300 of fees is in the close relationship that you obtain with your lawyer, and the time and advice provided to you for your solutions.

If you would like to talk about an estate plan, one that is affordable and customized to your needs and objectives, please contact me.

I practice family trust law in the quad-county area of Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties.

Attorney at Law

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