What is a “fair” price? That depends upon your individual case. Residential real estate closings, for example, typically range from $700 to $1,200, while complex matters can easily cost much more. Simple commercial transactions, such as buying a local business, often range from $2,000 to $4,000, but if the process takes longer than expected, this will also increase the price. The same is true in a divorce proceeding: if your soon-to-be “ex” doesn’t contest, the matter could be solved for a few thousand dollars, but if a drawn-out fight ensues, it could run in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Most attorneys looking to avoid disagreements with their clients will insist that a contract be signed by both parties at the outset. If your attorney does not offer a contract, make sure that you obtain something in writing, preferably on letterhead stating likely and maximum charges.
Beware of Bar Association Referral Hotlines: The Bar Associations have lawyer referral services (in San Diego County, we have the San Diego County Bar Association Referral Service and North County San Diego County Bar Association Referral Service). Understand that lawyers have signed up and paid a fee to be listed in certain specialties with these referral services. Their names come up on a rotating basis. And also note that the bar association is not making any judgment about who is a good attorney and who is not. They are simply connecting a bar member in good standing with a prospective client.
Look at membership listings for professional groups of estate planners. The best attorneys often are members of professional societies or other groups, where they can share knowledge and experience with other estate planners.
One example is the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. Its members frequently publish articles and present topics at continuing legal education seminars, so if you find an attorney listed as a member you can be more confident that she is an estate planning expert.
You also can search the member directory of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.
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