Category Archives: Wills

Help! I lost my living trust

lostI have a client who keeps his living trust  in his freezer. Oh, don’t worry, he says, “It’s in a plastic bag.” He knows where it is, but I don’t think his kids will ever find it because he’s super secretive.

Another client kept his trust in a large safe at home. Someone broke in and stole the entire safe-and his trust went bye-bye. I don’t think the thief was after his trust.

In the last few years, I’ve had  dozens of client lose their living trusts and other estate planning documents. It happens a lot. The trust is kept in a big binder that says “Estate Planning Portfolio” so it’s not super easy to lose. If a client loses a trust, we set up a time to have the client come in to sign a restatement of the trust, a new will and new power of attorneys. The restatement “becomes” the trust so having the original trust is not necessary once the restatement is signed.

You can get by with copies of a trust, a trust restatement, power of attorneys and living wills, but you ALWAYS need to keep track of your original pour-over will (or any will for that matter). Only original wills can be filed after a death, not copies. Any property left outside your trust can end going to different heirs than those named under your trust if you have no original will.

For about the last 8 years, I’ve kept a scanned copies of the trust, will, power of attorneys and living will and that helps a lot when a client loses their originals.

The best place to store a trust is to keep the originals at home and tell your successor trustee where it is kept. Also keep a copy online somewhere. Yahoo, google and dropbox are all good for this.

I don’t recommend keeping a trust in a safe deposit box. The boxes are too hard to get into after a death and are a complete hassle most of the time. It’s okay to put a trust or will in a safe deposit box if you have a child or your successor trustee  as signers on the box and they can get entry to it. Otherwise, it’s a waste.

How to get your will done online

There are a million reasons that people put off signing a will. This cool infographic says the three biggest reasons are: procrastination, too expensive and “I don’t need one.”

I can testify that the days of clients coming into a lawyer’s office for two appointments to sign a will are long gone. Clients are too busy. Instead, many prepare wills online, like they do everything else.

Unfortunately, only about 40% of the population signs a will during their lifetime.

Recently, I started offering to clients the convenience of online preparation of wills, power of attorneys and living wills. No office visits are necessary but of course, you are free to come in and sign it if it’s convenient for you.

Why shouldn’t I just order a Suzie Orman kit for $29.95? Because it is a canned form and too hard to choose the options that are right for you. Clients are always concerned that the end result will be messed up or totally invalid.

Why shouldn’t I go to Legalzoom and order a will? Because if takes almost a week to get it, it’s expensive and no attorney reviews it.

I charge a flat fee of $150 (single person) or $300 (married couple)for an attorney-prepared will-based estate plan that includes a will, power of attorney for property, power of attorney for health care, living will and HIPPA authorization. Use the coupon code “closing” to reduce the cost to $125 and $250.

The 5 steps to getting this done are shown in the graphic above. Clients register, fill out a questionnaire and  pay by credit card. I review the information, draft the documents and they are sent  to a secure web site and mailed to the client. You can fill it in the information from any computer, even your Ipad. The documents are emailed to you and signed in  the privacy of your home.

Here’s a comparison  of  Legalzoom against my fees:

Legal Zoom  $178 (single) and $356.00 (married)


Law office prepared estate plan:  $125 (single) and $250.00 (married).

That’s almost a 30 per cent savings.

Click here to get started.

It only takes a few minutes to fill out the questionnaire. Now that it’s convenient and inexpensive, there’s no reason to procrastinate on getting that will done, right?

The cost of probate

I am a fan of living trusts. Trusts avoid probate. Probate is not the chamber of horrors that it is sometimes made out to be. But, all things being the same, you are better off side-stepping it  if possible.

In Illinois, probate is not terribly expensive since we do not have a fee schedule that sets mandatory executor’s and attorney’s fees.  Our  probate statute allows ”reasonable” attorney’s fees. Generally, a probate case involves a minimum of two court appearances by the attorney.  Attorney’s fees in a standard probate range from a low of $1500.00 to a high of $3500.00. In addition to the attorney’s fees there are filing fees and costs. Here are the current costs in Cook County for a testate (with a will) probate:

$314.00 Filing fee to Clerk of Court

$180.00 Claims Notice in Newspaper

$20.00 Copies of letters of office

$514.00 Total Costs

Generally, the total cost of a probate (including costs and attorney’s fees) will be as low as $2000.00 or as high as $4000.00. This  would not include any tax advice, adminstration of the assets after the probate is opened or asset transfers. This is just to open and close the estate.

With a living trust, these costs are avoided and the client can go straight to collecting and distributing the assets without the added cost of the probate.  Often, the cost of setting up a living trust is just a little more than the cost of the probate filing fees alone, so it makes sense to skip the probate by using a trust.

Two steps and your will is done


Clients are short on time. Couples with young children seem the most time-starved.

In the past, it generally took two office visits to have a will done for a client. It was hard to coordinate times to meet and I think multiple office visits discouraged clients from signing wills and trusts.

Now, I’ve simplified will preparation into a two step process:

1. Fill out my online form. I call the client to discuss it by phone.

2. Wills are sent by email in pdf form and a hard copy is mailed to the client’s home with signing instructions.

It works wonderfully for those in time crunch mode. By making it easier to sign a will, maybe more than 31% of couples (the current sad stat) with young children will sign a wills.