How much should a lawyer cost?

I need a general purpose lawyer (is there such a thing?) in the Washington DC area. I probably should get wills done up for my wife and I - a couple of small, tricky twists - and I need advice on a couple of other matters, mainly dealing with real estate and inheritance. This is stuff I’ve put off for years because it always sounds expensive. Lawyers charge like $500 an hour, right? And I may need a good many hours, how can I know how long things will take?

Anyway, anybody have a vague notion of how much to expect to pay? Any advice on how to go about finding a general practitioner would be helpful too.

$500 / hour is not the fee for all lawyers - that is what the top guys charge. For wills many lawyers will charge a flat fee unless it is complicated. Ask friends for names of lawyers they used, they can also tell you how much they paid.

Call the DC Bar Association- they’ll tell you what the going rate is for an estate attorney in your area and refer you to a good one too. FTR, $500/hr. would be unusually high outside of a recovery-based arena.

Check with friends and family too- and you might want to start a thread in IMHO. There are quite a few DC-area Dopers.

In addition to the above suggestions, I’d recommend that once you do make contact with a lawyer, you ask him or her about fees. In my experience, most lawyers will be happy to tell you what they charge, and whether or not they can do a “flat rate” for things like wills.

Note that you probably don’t want to do business with the ones who are not happy to discuss such things. :wink:

It sounds like you need either a solo practitioner or someone in a small firm (or probably two lawyers really–a trusts and estates lawyer and a real-estate focused general business lawyer). The type of lawyer you need typically charges less than $200/hr. If they quote you more than that then you’ve found someone who does something different than what you need (but maybe they can recommend someone else).

The number of hours question is more difficult to answer. If your questions are run of the mill type stuff then the lawyer could probably address everything in a phone call with a follow-up email (to address anything he needed to think about and so you have someting in writing), which should probably all take like 2 or 3 hours. If you have unique or unusual issues then the lawyer may need to do some research, which would add another probably 2 or 3 hours.

I used an estate lawyer in the Tysons Corner area. We have a friend who’s a corporate attorney at Arnold & Porter and he gave us the recommendation from a colleague at his firm. He’s a sole practitioner, and I think it was in the neighborhood of $200 an hour or maybe less, can’t remember how many hours, to do wills for my wife and me, medical directives, all that stuff. He’s pretty good and if you’re on my side of the river I can give you his contact info if you email or PM me. I can also look up details of what it actually cost us.

You can probably also find cheaper ones than that.

There is certainly no shortage of lawyers in the DC area. :smiley:

Generally, $500.00 an hour is too high. It should run between $200.00 and $350.00 an hour. For stuff like estate planning, it is usually a flat fee unless you are doing something really unusual. For a couple doing wills, amds and DGPOAs, I would guess around $1,500.00. It may go up if you want a living trust and property transferred but not by much higher.

How much have you got?

Ah ha! I thought that would be how it works. :stuck_out_tongue:

PMed you **Cooking With Gas **. Yeah, I know a good few (not a few good) lawyers here but they are mostly government. You can’t go out of your house here without meeting at least one lawyer.

Thanks for the advice all. Even $200 an hour seems like it could add up fast if I have a difficult question, and I don’t know if my questions are difficult yet.

The problem is probably very typical it’s just that I’ve never had to deal with it and a lot of money could be on the line. In short, my Mom has a lot of property: her house, a lot of farm land - some in joint ownership with her siblings- and some partially developed riverfront property that will stay in the family. She wants to go ahead and move all or most of this to her children (me and my sibs). Would it be better, in general, to do the hand off now or wait for inheritence? There is no issue with us kids fighting over anything (yet?) but there are a few other players involved. Is this a tax attorney, estate planner or sole practitioner?

I responded to your PM with the contact info. For the benefit of anyone else interested we paid $1200 for two wills and medical directives for us (married couple with two young children).

IANAL but if your mother gives you (or any one person) more than $13,000 in 2009, she will have to file a gift tax return. Whether she actually owes gift tax or not is another question. With your mother’s property, advice would probably depend on the value. The tax code is smart enough to know if you’re trying to avoid estate tax by just giving stuff away while you’re still alive.

It can get a little complicated–even the IRS says, “The laws on Estate and Gift Taxes are considered to be some of the most complicated in the Internal Revenue Code.” Since you’re going to a lawyer anyway, add it to the list. Your situation is not at all unusual.

I can understand that you’d be concerned that at $200 per hour, things could mount up, but you’ve mentioned that there is potentially a lot of money on the line, depending on how your mother decides to handle things. In that type of situation, the initial outlay on wills and other estate planning is a wise investment. Compare the $1200 mentioned by CookingWithGas to the amount of money that may be coming to you eventually. $1200 isn’t likely very much in comparison.

Very true. I just like to see how far the drop is before I leap. As a group (Mom, my siblings and I) we know we should “do something” and I am taking the first steps. Steps that have lingered around for years waiting for one of us to take the initiative.

Actually, it seems that your mom needs to see a lawyer since she is the one that needs to get an estate plan in place. Where does your mom live? Since it is her estate, you will want an attorney licensed in her jurisdiction. If she is in the DC Metro area, never mind.

There are tax complications to your mom gifting you and your siblings the properties as well as tax consequences further down if you decide to sell. An Trusts and Estates Attorney should be able to guide your mother down the process.

The estate part of this seems straight forward, what may or may not be complicated is the transfers of the land if they jointly owned.