ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY: Duties, Roles, and Costs of Estate Planning Lawyers


Estate planning attorney are helpful during the estate planning process and afterward through the process of probate court. They are familiar with the state and federal laws that will affect your estate.

Estate planning attorneys, also known as estate law attorneys or probate attorneys, are experienced and licensed legal professionals who understand the state and federal laws that govern how your estate will be inventoried, valued, distributed, and taxed after your death. In addition to educating you about the probate process, an estate planning attorney can assist you with the following tasks:

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  • Making a Will
  • Designating your beneficiaries
  • Making a medical durable power of attorney and a durable power of attorney for property
  • Identifying strategies for reducing and avoiding estate taxes.
  • Identifying methods to avoid the probate court process
  • Creating any trusts you may need to protect your assets, both for your own benefit and for the benefit of your beneficiaries after you pass away.

Estate planning attorneys typically charge a flat fee to assist you in creating legally binding documents such as wills and durable powers of attorney, but they can also be hired on an hourly basis to help you maintain your estate, act on your behalf to handle disputes when necessary, and ensure that your will is carried out according to plan when required.

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An estate planning attorney can also help anyone with power of attorney over a recently deceased person’s estate navigate the probate court process. A good estate planning attorney may be able to help you avoid probate court entirely, but this is largely dependent on the type of assets in the deceased’s estate and how they can be legally transferred.

How to Become an Estate Planning Attorney

As an estate attorney, also known as an estate planning or probate lawyer, you assist your clients in settling their financial affairs before they die. You will also administer clients’ estates according to their will and/or their revocable living trust. An estate planning attorney makes every effort to ensure that your property and health care wishes are honored and that your loved ones are provided for in your absence.

Estate law is related to family law, and you will often have to work closely with related individuals who are involved in an estate. As an estate lawyer, you will need to assist your clients in reducing estate taxes or fees, and you may also assist your clients in organizing their retirement plans, life insurance policies, and charitable contributions.

Part 1: Getting the Necessary Education

#1. Understand the skills needed to be an estate lawyer.

Estate lawyers are primarily responsible for preparing and reviewing legal documents for an estate, negotiating any terms or conditions, and facilitating the transfer of titles within an estate. A person’s estate is their net worth at any given time. A person’s net worth is the sum of their assets (property, legal rights, and interests) less their liabilities. As an estate lawyer, your role is to assist your client in planning for the disposition of their estate, as well as any wills, trusts, or power of attorney agreements. You will need to help your clients draft their wills, trusts, and any other estate planning documents.

#2. Submit an application to law school.

Before enrolling in law school, you must first obtain a bachelor’s degree (4-year degree) from an accredited college or university. The majority of pre-law students have bachelor’s degrees in political science, psychology, or sociology. To be a competitive applicant, you must maintain a high GPA (preferably 3.5 or higher).

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#3. Attend law school and pass the bar exam in your state.

You’ll need to go to law school and get your Juris Doctorate. Attend a law school that has an estate attorney clinical program if at all possible. To practice law in your state, you must first pass your state’s bar exam. Most state bar exams necessitate a thorough understanding of the legal system, with written exams covering both the law and ethics.

#4. Become well versed in the Uniform Probate Code.

Wills, trusts, and other legal documents of an estate are subject to rules and limitations under the Uniform Probate Code. Many key aspects of estate planning and probate are governed by laws that have been adopted by all 50 states in the United States. As an estate lawyer, you will be involved in many probate processes for clients and should be well-versed in your state’s uniform probate code.

Part 2: Begin Your Career

#5. Conduct in-depth interviews.

Informational interviews are an excellent way to learn more about your chosen career path from the experiences of others. They are 30-minute exploratory conversations with people in your field of interest.

#6. Internships and mentorships are excellent ways to gain experience.

Internships and mentorships will help you better prepare for the steep learning curve you’ll face as an estate attorney in your early years. Many law schools have work-study programs that can give you hands-on experience with the guidance of a mentor who is currently practicing real estate law.

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#7. Participate in a professional organization.

Look for a local estate law association or a national organization like the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC). These organizations can provide excellent opportunities to meet and network with other estate lawyers. It may also lead to potential jobs or contacts that could expand your client base. Many of these professional associations also provide information on the latest developments in estate law and strategies to best serve your clients.

#8. Enroll in an estate law specialist course.

Consider taking an estate law specialist course if you want to broaden your current knowledge and make yourself a more desirable candidate in the industry. To take these courses, you typically need five years or more of estate planning experience, recommendations from colleagues, and the ability to pass a comprehensive exam to demonstrate a certain level of estate planning knowledge.

Estate Planning Attorney Cost

Knowing what factors contribute to the cost of an estate plan, the question remains, “How much?” As the preceding paragraphs demonstrate, costs can vary greatly. Some attorneys may prepare a simple will or power of attorney for as little as $150 or $200. In most cases, experienced attorneys will charge between $250 and $350 per hour to prepare more complex estate plans. Working with such an attorney could cost you several thousand dollars.

Do-it-yourself estate planning options are available, as are many other things these days. Nolo and other online legal companies offer software products such as WillMaker. This software, which costs less than $100, will assist you in creating your own essential estate planning documents.

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Estate Planning Fees Come in a Variety of Forms

Because not all estate attorneys use the same pricing system, you may receive a variety of estimates depending on whom you speak with. When trying to budget for the cost of an attorney estate plan, it’s important to know who is doing the work, what type of plan you need, and the legal fees your estate planning attorney prefers.

#1. Hourly Pay

If your attorney can’t pinpoint a fixed fee to charge you, he or she will likely use an hourly rate. This would include any time your lawyer worked on your case. If your attorney asks for an hourly fee, they may also request a retainer up front before they begin. This could be the entire sum or just a portion of it. If it’s the latter, they’ll bill you for the remainder later in the process.

#2. Flat Fee

A flat fee is a fixed price set by your attorney to accommodate their estate planning work and experience. This pricing will typically cover the cost of preparing necessary documents, such as a will or a power of attorney. If your lawyer asks you for a flat fee, you should clarify what’s included in that plan. That is because it can change depending on the estate planner’s discretion. Some attorneys, for example, may not include a notary or assistance with trusts.

#3. Contingency Fee

A contingency fee is used in situations where you will receive monetary compensation. For example, if you win a court case and accept the monetary award, you must pay a percentage to your attorney. As a result, estate planners rarely use contingency fees. They don’t make sense without a counter-argument.

Factors That Could Raise Your Bill

Fees are only one factor that may influence your estate planning bill. Any special considerations or tasks could increase the total fee. You should know what to expect, so talk directly with an attorney. Ask them to schedule an upfront consultation in person, usually free of charge, and supply you with an estimate. Furthermore, there is no harm in comparing prices. So, feel free to interview a few potential attorneys and choose the one who best meets your needs.

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Estate Planning Attorney Salary

The salaries of an estate planning attorney in the US range from $18,204 to $492,998, with a median salary of $88,615. The middle 57% of estate planning lawyers earn between $88,627 and $223,334 per year, with the top 86 percent earning $492,998.

How much tax will you have to pay as an estate planning attorney?

In 2018, an individual filing in this tax bracket would pay an estimated average federal tax of 24 percent. After deducting a federal tax rate of 24%, estate planning attorneys could expect to have a take-home pay of $84,286 per year, with each paycheck equaling approximately $3,512.

What to Look for in an Estate Planning Attorney

Now that you know what an estate planning attorney is, you might be wondering how to find one who is right for you, your situation, and your estate. By following a few simple steps, you can find the ideal attorney for all of your needs.

#1. Do Not Restrict Your Search to a Specific Geographic Area

First, while your attorney should be licensed in your state, do not limit your search geographically. There are only a few attorneys in your area who specialize in estate planning. Don’t be concerned with geography when looking for the best attorney in your area for your family. Our firm handles cases in San Diego and Orange Counties.

#2. Obtain a Recommendation from an Attorney or Other Advisor

Get a referral from another attorney, financial advisor, or CPA whom you know. He or she will probably know someone that is a good estate planning attorney and specializes in this area of the law.

#3. Be wary of online directories

Be wary of internet “directories” that promise to connect you with a qualified lawyer. We get solicited almost daily by companies who offer to place us in their directories for a hefty fee. Most of these “specialist directories” are a farce because they are nothing more than an internet version of a yellow pages ad.

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#4. Does the Attorney Focus on Estate Planning?

There are many attorneys that say that they do estate planning. Of course, there are many who do. The real question to ask, however, is “do they practice exclusively in this area of the law”? Just as there are doctors that specialize in certain areas of medicine, such as general practice, cardiology, or oncology, there are attorneys that are generalists and ones that limit their practices to a specific area of the law.

#5. Use Caution When Calling Bar Association Referral Hotlines

Lawyer referral services are available through the Bar Associations (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 these referral services require lawyers to sign up and pay a fee to be listed in specific specialties. Their names come up on a rotating basis.

#6. Is the attorney a Published Author in the Estate Planning Field?

Ask each attorney if they have a book, have published articles, or a website with relevant information they have written so that you can find out more about his or her qualifications and experience before you walk in the door.

#7. Forget about catchy slogans and hype.

Slogans such as “we care about you,” “we help you avoid probate,” and “we help you protect your assets” are meaningless. After all, aren’t these the things that you would expect from your estate planning attorney?

#8. Does the attorney carry malpractice insurance?

Is the attorney covered by legal malpractice insurance? This is a sign of accountability. Anyone can make a mistake, and you should not make the mistake of hiring an attorney who does not have malpractice insurance. Remember that an attorney is not required to carry malpractice insurance in many states.

#9. Inquire as to which law school the attorney attended.

Just like any other school, law schools that are harder to get into have higher standards and only accept the best students. The law school ranking system has four (4) tiers, with the first tier being at the top and the most difficult to get into. Inquire with the attorney about where he or she attended law school.

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#10. Is the attorney a member of any professional organizations?

Membership in an organization such as WealthCounsel indicates that the attorney you are meeting with is committed to staying up on the latest and greatest estate planning developments. These organizations offer extensive education and peer networking opportunities to their members.


Having substantial assets necessitates extensive planning, including retirement planning, tax planning, and estate planning. Be aware of your options when it comes to estate planning. To save money, you can do it online, or you can hire an estate planning attorney. Taking the latter course will incur a variety of fees, including flat fees, contingency fees, and hourly fees.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can a lawyer help in estate planning?

An estate planning attorney, also known as an estate law attorney or a probate attorney, assists in the estate planning process by writing down your wishes for incapacity and death. This attorney will know which documents to use and will present options to ensure that your objectives are met.

What are the 5 components of estate planning?

A good estate plan includes five key components: a will, trust(s), power of attorney, a health care or medical directive, and beneficiary designation. A will is a legally binding document that specifies who will inherit your property and assets after you die.

Is estate planning for the rich?

No. When you think of estate planning, you may picture someone who is extremely wealthy and believe that it does not apply to you. This is a common misunderstanding.

What is the main idea of estate planning?

Estate planning ensures that all of your assets – physical, financial, and online – are passed on to the people you want to inherit them after your death. If you die intestate, the law may not take your personal relationships or preferences into account when distributing your assets.

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