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Estate planning is all about strategy—leaving the right assets and inheritances to the right beneficiaries; timely distributions of the estate; and avoiding as many taxes and fees as possible. Another strategic move is deciding whether you and your spouse should use the same lawyer, or whether you should each have your own lawyer.

If you are married, please note you have the option of hiring separate attorneys for your estate planning needs.

Though the goals of most married persons are the same when it comes to wills, trusts, and estate planning, some married individuals (especially individuals who have children from prior marriages) have differing views on the ownership of property and beneficiaries, and naming executors, trustees, and guardians. Likewise, some married individuals have private information they do not wish to share with their spouse — information that may be essential to the estate planning process that would have to be disclosed to the attorney and, therefore, disclosed to the spouse if I am representing both spouses. Additionally, sometimes married individuals have “awkward” questions they wish to ask the attorney — questions they would not be comfortable asking in the presence of their spouse, such as how a divorce might affect their estate plan.

By obtaining separate attorneys, you would be able to: (1) share in confidence any secrets or private information with your attorney that may be important to the estate planning process; (2) ask in confidence whatever questions you may have; and (3) receive completely confidential advice and counsel. If represented jointly, you will be waiving and losing all three of the above rights with respect to your spouse.

If you decide to obtain separate attorneys, this firm would be pleased to represent either one of you separately. If you are married and decide you would like this firm to represent both of you, then complete this Estate Plan Questionnaire form jointly (please do not fill out two separate forms).

Joint Representation

Two brides in white wedding dresses

For many married couples, joint representation is a likely choice. The benefits are obvious; joint representation can be cost-effective and can be more efficient since you can work together on a single Estate Plan Questionnaire in preparation to meet with the estate planning lawyer. Another advantage is that the joint representation somewhat forces open and honest communication between you as a couple as you make decisions on beneficiaries (such as children and grandchildren), executors, and disposition of property.

It’s important for your lawyer to avoid conflicts of interest, so they can uphold and respect your attorney-client privilege. If you choose to have joint representation you may waive the conflict of interest clause so that you may be represented together. Or, of course, you can seek separate legal counsel and not sign such a clause.

This communication is critical if you opt for joint representation. Without it, disaster can strike mid-meeting with the lawyer if couples disagree about which child is most responsible in terms of estate execution or how much of a trust fund each beneficiary should receive at age 18.

Individual Representation

couple holding hands in green space

There are times when it is best for each spouse to seek separate legal counsel. One such time is when there are different interests that are at odds with each other. For example, if one or both people have children from a previous marriage/relationship that will be named as beneficiaries. There can be conflicting interests between stepparents and stepchildren when it comes to the estate. Additionally, if you both have your own individual estate planning lawyer, you may have more freedom to voice individual concerns, without having to audit your opinions in accordance with your partner’s desires.


Have questions? Need more information? A great place to start is by downloading my Estate Plan Questionnaire, or feel free to reach out at any time; my email is Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and cell phone is 515-371-6077. 

Gordon Fischer at desk

How much does an estate plan cost? It’s an important question. Fortunately, you can easily find the answer (specific to my services) in my Estate Plan Questionnaire (EPQ), available to all on my website.

Filling out my Estate Plan Questionnaire is a great first step to completing an estate plan for you and your family. My EPQ is a PDF you can fill out online, download, and/or print. It features an easy-to-read schedule of my fees.

EPQ wills graph

Living Trusts graph

All parties benefit from transparent information regarding costs. You’re writing an estate plan so there are no surprises regarding your assets after death. Certainly, the last thing you want is to be surprised at the cost of estate planning documents while you’re living!

Cost of estate plan as an issue

When I talk with folks who want to complete an estate plan, but are procrastinating, a common concern that comes up is cost. People are concerned (and rightly so) about how much money they must fork over for an estate plan. So, no matter what lawyer you hire to draft or update your estate plan (and you do indeed need a lawyer to have this done right) make sure they’re completely up front with you about what it will cost.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

One Size Does Not Fit All on tag

There is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” estate plan. Estate plans—their terms, coverage, ins and outs—depend on a myriad of individual circumstances and indeed preferences.

This is why filling out an Estate Plan Questionnaire is such an important first step. You can gather the important and relevant information, all in one place, and think through some of the decisions you must make when building your estate plan. Plus, I can see from your Estate Plan Questionnaire what you might want and need to meet your planning goals. Once the Estate Plan Questionnaire is filled out, you and I meet for a free one-hour consultation.

Let’s Talk About Your EPQ

In the free, one-hour consultation, we’ll talk about the EPQ you completed. I usually meet clients in my office, but I’ve also met folks at coffee shops, restaurants, hospitals, and their houses. (I do make house calls!) Regardless of place, we’ll walk through your Estate Planning Questionnaire. I’ll listen carefully as you describe your intentions. I’ll answer all your questions. I’ll address all your concerns. Once we are both satisfied we understand each other, I’ll give you my recommendations. I’ll tell you in plain language what I think you need and why I think you need it. I’ll also tell you the exact cost. As you can see from my fee schedule above, I use a flat fee approach. So, you’ll get a 100% reliable figure.

Only Then, My Bill

It is important to note I don’t bill you until the end of this process. Only once you have a fully executed (i.e., signed, notarized, witnessed) estate plan, only then will I provide you my bill for services. And again, because I work on a flat fee basis, the bill will exactly match the figure I provided you earlier. Some clients write a check right on the spot, and we’re done. Other folks want to pay along with all their other bills, so they pay me later. Yes, you may take the estate plan documents without paying. I trust you’ll pay me.

So, now the cost of an estate plan has been demystified, why not take control of your future and set your family and friends up for a smooth transition of all your assets in the case of illness, disability, or death? As stated before, a great place to start is the Estate Plan Questionnaire. Also, feel free to reach out at any time by email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or on my cell, 515-371-6077.

Gordon Fischer at desk with client

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” —Shakespeare, Henry VI

This line is oft-quoted to suggest the Bard felt contempt for lawyers. But, it’s notable that Will, one of the most acclaimed writers of the English language, hired a lawyer (Francis Collins of Warwick) to craft a very detailed will.

DIY Will?

Still, a common question I get all the time is, “Can I write my own will? Do I really need an attorney?” It’s a fair question.

In this age, you can watch a YouTube video, read a DIY blog post, or ask your network on Twitter, to fix or build or make almost anything. There’s limitless information, which makes it feel like you can bypass the “pros” for a cheaper, simpler fix. So, yes, you can write your own will or use an internet service like LegalZoom.

The question, though, isn’t whether you can write your own will, with some research surely you can. The question is instead: should you write your own will? And, if so, will it be valid and hold up in court?

To this point, hypothetically, with lots of study, you could perform oral surgery on yourself, but should you do so and will it turn out well?

Economic Self-Interest?

Before I provide nine reasons you should hire a lawyer to draft your estate plan, let’s deal head on with the idea that my conclusion is based on my own economic self-interest. “Of course you want people to hire an estate planning lawyer, because you are one!”

But, I’m not saying you should hire a lawyer only if that lawyer is me, Gordon Fischer of Gordon Fischer Law Firm…although, if you’re interested, we can certainly schedule a free consultation with no obligation. Rather, I’m just saying you should hire a competent lawyer well-versed in estate planning and probate law. There are many fine Iowa attorneys. This is not about me and my money, this is about you and your money.

The plain truth is you need a lawyer to help you with your estate planning. Here are nine reasons why.

Reason #1: You need more than just a will

Always remember, and never forget, you don’t just need a will, you need an estate plan. While the two terms “will” and “estate plan” are often used interchangeably, this is wrong, as they are two different things. An estate plan is a set of legal documents to prepare for your death or disability. A will is just one of those legal documents, albeit an important one.

In fact, there are at least six “must have” estate planning documents you need. So, you don’t need to draft just one legal document and get it right, but several.

Reason #2: Save time and energy

Handing off the complex task of drafting a thorough estate plan to a responsible professional will alleviate an immense burden on you. It’s simply a lot of work to write an estate plan.

Reason #3: Save money

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Without an estate plan, you and your estate may end up paying more in the long run in professional fees, court costs, and taxes. Using  a flat rate with an attorney will be much more straightforward and to your long-term economic advantage.

Reason #4: Save more money

An experienced attorney knows where to look and what questions to ask to help you secure additional tax and financial benefits.

Reason #5: It’s complicated

I’ve mentioned this before, but this stuff is hard. It’s part art and part science. Every phrase, every word, can undo an estate plan.

Plus, the law is dynamically changing all the time. The federal government, Iowa government, agencies like the IRS, and courts at every level are changing the rules of the game constantly. It’s almost a full-time job keeping track of the current play of the rules, let alone learning the rules to begin.

Reason #6: One Shot

Cathedral Ceiling

After you shuffle off this mortal coil, how many chances do you get to get your estate plan right? One! There is no second chance.

If, for example, you write your own will, and forget or overlook a key requirement, and then something happens to you, there can be no do-over. It’s done. Plus, your estate plan will probably need updates and revisions following any big life changes that you’ll want a lawyer to help you address. (See reason #8 for more on this.)

Reason #7: Objectivity

Along with expertise, lawyers offer objectivity. By working with a lawyer, you’re going to bring that extra voice of reason to bear on current and future estate planning needs. Is it a good idea to leave your entire estate to your dog Buster? Is your 18-year-old kid truly mature enough to handle your IRA worth a million dollars? A lawyer can give you direct, unvarnished, and unbiased advice.

Reason #8: The only constant in your life is change.

As your life changes, your estate plan must adapt. Perhaps you move to a new state. Maybe you have a kid and then some more kids. The kids grow up and have kids of their own. Throughout, perhaps you marry or divorce. Your financial situation significantly changes. All these life events, and many more, necessitate changes to your estate plan. You need a lawyer to tell you when your estate plan needs a tune-up and to perform the tune-up.

Reason #9: Lawyers themselves!

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It’s funny to think about, but nonetheless true. After you die, who will determine if your estate planning documents are valid? Lawyers! State judges (who will, of course, be attorneys) are going to review your estate plan documents. These judges will determine whether your documents meet the necessary requirements. You don’t want to leave it up to a judge, trained as a lawyer, to try to figure out if your DIY documents are valid under the Iowa Probate Code.

Closing Argument

Have I convinced you? Or do you still want to go it alone?

Feel free to contact me any time to discuss further why you need a lawyer to draft an estate plan. I offer a one-hour free consultation, without any obligation. I can be reached any time at my email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or on my cell, 515-371-6077.