When you get started with estate planning, one important legal document to create is a living will. This advanced directive describes the types of life-preserving care you want if you become incapacitated and unable to make health care decisions on your own.
For example, you can specify whether you want CPR performed if your heart stops beating, or if you’re comfortable with being put on a breathing machine or using a feeding tube.
You can’t designate who is responsible for making health decisions on your behalf in a living will. You’ll need to create a separate document known as a health care power of attorney.
It costs money to draft a proper living will; how much will depend on how you go about it. Learn your options for creating a living will and the associated costs.
- It’s possible to create a living will on your own, using software or online tools, for $100 or less.
- Many experts recommend hiring a lawyer to help, which ensures that your living will adheres to all state laws and will hold up in court.
- Attorney fees and billing styles vary quite a bit depending on location, experience, time required, and more.
- The cost to create a living will with the assistance of an attorney can range from $200 to $1,000 or more.
Costs To Create a Living Will
Creating a living will can cost as little as a few dollars to upward of $1,000. It depends on how involved the process is and whether you decide to hire an attorney. Here’s a closer look at ways to create a living will and how much each one costs.
DIY Living Will
The most cost-effective option is a do-it-yourself living will. There are online services that can help you draft one for less than $100, although it is possible to find free templates online, according to Lyle Solomon, a consumer finance expert and principal attorney at Oak View Law Group. At the very least, he said in an email, you can expect to pay around $15 to have the document notarized.
Keep in mind that putting together a living will on your own may not be the best route. “Writing your own legal documents has risks,” Solomon said, noting that your state may have specific rules about what makes a living will legally binding. “If you make mistakes in order to save money, it may cost you more in the future.”
If you do decide to hire an attorney or estate planner to help you create a living will, some will charge you a flat rate. According to Solomon, the fee is based on a number of factors, including where you live and the experience level of your attorney. The final cost can be a few hundred dollars to $1,000 or more, Solomon said.
You might work with a lawyer that bills by the hour. Solomon said this billing structure can vary in price, depending on the particular lawyer. Those with more specialized experience or who practice in major cities will likely charge a higher rate—around $300 per hour.
With a sliding fee system, Solomon said, your lawyer will be willing to work within your budgetary restrictions. Depending on the lawyer, the time required to complete the living will, and other factors, the cost could be anywhere from $250 to $500.
How Lawyer Fees Impact Living Will Costs
Involving a lawyer can make the cost of drafting your living will much higher. However, it’s often worth it in the long run.
“Individuals don’t necessarily need an attorney for creating a will,” said Sabine Franco, a trusts and estate attorney and owner of The Ambitious Legacy Firm. “However, having an attorney can help determine specific goals and wishes, and outline them within a will, as well as provide beneficial guidance.”
Franco recommended you spend some time saving up for the costs of creating a living will and research options at different firms. Some attorneys may offer a free consultation. Franco said that in smaller cities and states, hourly rates can be $200 to $300, while in bigger cities, the hourly rate could be up to $1,000.
Changing or Canceling Your Living Will
You’re allowed to change the directives in your living will at any time. In fact, Franco said that it’s important to review living wills every two to three years to be sure it still matches your wishes.
She added that depending on your state, there may be changes made to the language or signature requirements for these designations according to the state’s estates, powers, and trust laws. “If an individual doesn't update their will in tune with law changes, their will and other planning documents could be questioned in court,” Franco said.
When involving a lawyer to review or update a living will, you’ll be billed. So factor in the costs to your ongoing planning.
Other situations that may necessitate an update to your living will include receiving a new diagnosis for a terminal or life-altering disease, or a change in marital status. If you move to a different state, you’ll need to make sure the living will is legally sound according to the state law where you have moved. Some universal forms are accepted in many states.
Anytime you make changes to your living will, provide new copies to family members and health care providers. When you visit the hospital, it can be a good idea to bring along a copy for the medical staff. Adding your living will to your state’s online registry, if available, can make it easier for medical staff to find.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why is it important to have a living will?
If you become injured or very ill, you may not be able to communicate the types of care you prefer to receive. This can create confusion among health care professionals and loved ones who need to step in and make health care decisions. A living will clarifies your wishes. It’s a key part of your estate planning, along with a living trust, last will and testament and other important legal documents.
When does a living will take effect?
A living will takes effect when your attending physician, plus one other physician, determines you are no longer capable of making decisions about your medical treatment. They must also determine that you are one of the following:
- In a terminal condition
- Persistently unconscious
- Have an end-stage condition
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