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I have been quoted a rate of between $1100 and $1700 to set up the trust (depending on how complicated we want to get). I have seen rates advertised of $300 to $500 for both attorneys and companies to set up a living trust.

Once a trust is set up, are there any further fees. Will there be large fees if my wife or I die, or if both of us dies? Are the only future fees going to come when we update the trust?

Why should I not use a cheaper company or attorney? Do they get their money back by charging fees later? Do they advertise $300 and then when you come in, they say that in your case it will need to be more complicated and will cost $1500? If they charge such low fees should their comptency be in question? If I use a company will I have to pay more (than I would if I had used an attorney) to perform updates every few years?

You get what you pay for, generally. $1100 to $1700 sounds about right to me. My fees for living trusts, on those rare occasions that I recommend them, are generally higher than that. If doing any estate tax planning and if you expect to get any real help with funding the trust, you should maybe expect to pay a little more than that.

Be sure that a living trust is what you want and need. The claimed advantages are often negligible and the horrors and costs of probate are generally GREATLY overstated. It will cost about the same (except for probate court fees, which generally are not much) and take about the same amount of time to properly administer a trust as it would a probate estate with a will, and if done right, a "pourover" will should be probated anyway, if for no other reason than to cut off creditors' claims.

Also, consider that living trust based estate plans generally cost more than will based estate plans. Unless you're planning on dying soon, consider the time value of money. Even if a trust is a shade cheaper when dyin' time comes, the higher fees paid to set it up, fund it, and maintain it probably cost you a good bit more in real terms, when you factor in the time value of those higher initial costs.

Whatever you do, go to an attorney, not a non-law-firm "company." A "company" is just going to give you some kind of generic fill-in-the-blank forms. If you use an attorney, at least you can sue him or her for malpractice if he or she screws up -- which brings up another point -- ask your potential attorneys if they have malpractice insurance, and if so, how much. That question shouldn't offend a good attorney.

Chris Riser
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