Jun 23, 2023

Getting It Right: How a Flat Fee Estate Planning Service Allows You to Ensure That Your Estate Plan Is Solid

Flat Fee Estate Planning

If you’ve ever hired a lawyer before, you may be familiar with how quickly hourly fees can add up. You might even think twice before writing an email to your attorney or calling with a question because a brief reply or conversation can be pricey. Fortunately, there are many other types of free arrangements beyond paying a lawyer by the hour – such as a flat fee agreement.


For estate planning, flat fees make good sense. You know from the start exactly how much you will invest for the development of your estate plan. It also means that your lawyer can devote time to working with you on what success looks like for you, as well as focusing on the technical details and legal requirements.


Blacksburg Law works (almost) exclusively on flat fee agreements for clients. This gives us the ability to focus on each client and learn more about them and their family before we begin drafting. If you’d like to learn more about our unique estate planning process, reach out to schedule a consultation with us.

Why a Flat Fee Arrangement Works Best for Estate Planning

Flat fee agreements are most common for legal matters that do not involve litigation. With a flat fee, you don’t pay by the hour. Instead, you pay a set amount for the service that you are requesting (such as estate planning). There may also be an option to pay extra for add-ons to the main service.


At Blacksburg Law, we believe that estate planning is about far more than the documents. That is why all of our services are offered on a flat fee basis. We want our clients to feel comfortable digging into the details and having in-depth conversations on what they want their estate plans to be – without worrying about racking up a huge bill. 


As detailed above, our estate planning process is more robust than what most law firms offer. We don’t simply ask you for a list of your assets and beneficiaries or heirs. We aren’t just churning out estate planning documents that any law firm could do for you.


The Three Critical Aspects of Your Estate Plan

Our founder, Michael Blacksburg, has a diverse background in law, finance, and leadership. In addition to practicing law, he has served as a senior advisor at a fiduciary private bank, led wealth/legacy management teams, acted as a corporate trustee liaison, and worked as a senior consultant to support family business succession. He also obtained a leadership coaching certificate through Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership, and actively coaches and develops educational programs for attorneys and rising gen leaders.


Our unique approach to estate planning is based in large part on Michael’s professional education and experience.  It is also informed by his life experiences as a parent, mediator, and a survivor of a near-death COVID infection. As a result, we understand that effective estate planning requires more than just technical legal knowledge. It also requires a high degree of emotional intelligence and the ability to see the bigger picture.


When you think about estate planning, your first thought might be about documents, such as a revocable living trust, last will and testament or a power of attorney. While documents are an important part of estate planning, they’re just one aspect of what should be a more comprehensive plan.


At Blacksburg Law, we take a different approach to estate planning. Our process focuses on developing and walking through your set of instructions that you want folks to follow.  From there, we can prepare the appropriate documents for your plan.  We can also generate a tangible connection to your estate plan so that you can leave a legacy that goes beyond transferring your wealth.  We believe that there are three critical aspects to any estate plan:


  1. Deciding what matters most to you and your family;
  2. Working out the details of making your desired plan workable; and
  3. Drafting the estate planning documents.


The first step is perhaps the most important: having in-depth conversations with you to help you decide what a successful estate plan looks like for you. This goes beyond the basics of figuring out who gets what; we will talk to you about your values, what’s important to you, and more to help you create a legacy.


For example, if you are committed to LGBTQ+ rights, then a key part of your estate plan may be ensuring that future generations also support these issues. In your estate plan, you can set out your hopes and dreams for how your heirs will carry on your legacy of being an advocate or ally for the LGBTQ+ community. 


The goal here isn’t to control your loved ones by placing strings on your gifts. Instead, we hope that conversations with our legal team spark similar discussions with your family. In this way, you can help them understand why certain things are so important to you – and encourage them to show those same values in their own lives.


This first step probably requires the most heavy lifting – at least when it comes to your emotions. It can be difficult to think about your legacy, and to distill your hopes and dreams into a list or a few pages. As seasoned California estate planning lawyers, we can guide you through the process by asking questions, listening thoughtfully, and offering suggestions for how you can translate your aspirations into a workable plan.


The second step involves more details. Our experience has shown us that most plans fail when the instructions you want loved ones to follow are vague or information isn’t well organized. This is where we take a deeper look at how this plan will work.


Our team will talk to you about things like:


  • Your financial assets, including retirement accounts, real property, investments, and more;
  • Where these assets are located;
  • How these assets will be transferred to your trust;
  • Options for funding various goals through your trust; 
  • Who the guardians for your minor children will be; 
  • What are the values and other family members you want in that child’s life;
  • What your responsibilities beyond your children may be (such as caring for elderly parents); and
  • Who will manage the trust once you are no longer able to do so due to death or incapacity.


During this stage, we will also focus on the practical issues that often arise when a person becomes incapacitated or after a person dies. For example, what are your revenue streams and where are those funds deposited?; Who are your important contacts and what information do they have?; Where is other needed information stored?  On the more ethos-oriented side, if your photos, videos, and other important documents are stored electronically, how will your successor trustee or loved ones gain access to them? Who has a key to your house or to a storage unit? 


We will walk you through these details so that your loved ones aren’t spending months trying to unravel your estate. Our law firm likes to refer to this part as providing the biggest, best bread crumb for your successor trustee and beneficiaries. All of this information will ultimately go into a binder along with your estate planning documents.


This brings us to the third and final step: drafting the legal documents. For some estate planning lawyers, creating these documents is the primary service offered. We know that these documents are crucial to ensure that your plan is fulfilled – but are not the most important thing.


Our law office will prepare all of the necessary estate plan documents for you, including a revocable living trust, a last will and testament (or pour-over will), a durable power of attorney for finances, an advance healthcare directive (AHCD), HIPAA authorizations, and nomination of guardian. However, we won’t get started on these documents until we have clarified and addressed your values and your set of instructions. In this way, we can ensure that your documents do more than simply list which of your heirs receive certain assets.


We often use the analogy of estate planning as a road trip. The documents are like the vehicle. It’s necessary to get you to where you want to go – but it doesn’t tell you where you are going or what you’ll do when you get there. A more holistic estate planning approach – such as the one offered by Blacksburg Law – ensures that you won’t have a vehicle without any idea of where you’re going or what you’ll do with it.


We pride ourselves on truly getting to know each and every one of our clients. We know that estate planning can be an emotionally fraught process for many people. Our goal is not to avoid the hard subjects, but to lean into them and help you decide how to handle them through a trust-based estate plan.


Because our estate planning process is far more involved than what many law firms provide, it makes sense that we work on a flat fee basis. Our primary aim is for our clients to have an emotional connection to their estate plan. If you’re spending every appointment worried about your lawyer being “on the clock,” the chances of you devoting enough time to have a true connection to your plan are low.  


With a flat fee arrangement, you know exactly what you’ll be spending for your estate plan – and what you will get for your money. In addition to reducing stress over huge legal bills, this type of agreement also makes it easier to budget for an estate plan. If you want additional services – such as our attorneys handling the technical details like transferring assets into your trust – you can choose to pay an extra fee. 


Ultimately, we want our clients to leave our office with more than just a binder full of documents. We want them to feel confident that they have created a legacy that they can pass down to the next generation. By using a flat fee agreement, we can help make this aspiration become reality.

Start the Estate Planning Process Today

When it comes to legal services like estate planning, flat fee arrangements are a great option. Instead of worrying about the clock, you can focus on more important things – like what your legacy will be. At our law firm, you will know up front exactly how much it will cost you to get a comprehensive trust-based estate plan.


Blacksburg Law offers flat-fee estate planning services to clients throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. We strongly believe that estate planning is about more than a set of documents; it should be about deciding what matters most to you and figuring out how to pass those values down to the next generation. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team, give us a call at 415-508-5600 or fill out our online contact form.

The Role of a Power of Attorney in Estate Planning

Estate planning is a crucial step for anyone who wants to ensure their loved ones are well taken care of and their assets are distributed according to their wishes. One essential element of estate planning is the appointment of a power of attorney. Let’s explore the role of a power of attorney in estate planning