Wednesday, April 25, 2018
I get this question much more regularly now than 5 years ago. Thanks to the internet, we now have access to more information, and if you believe what you read, it SHOULD make things more transparent. Professional services are no different.
What companies like LegalZoom (often a bane of my existence) have done is the same that companies like CarMax has tried to do for the car industry, or the TDAmeritrades of the finance world: "here are our fees and costs, beat that small business!"
So, how much do things really cost? This transparency is generally good for the consumer, but too much information I believe has made our society overly skeptical about just about every transaction.
Cut to the chase- I can change my own oil. Probably. But I'd have to buy the equipment, slide under my car (or jack it up and risk getting crushed) get really messy, and then have the spent oil to dispose of properly. How much does that cost? Likely way more than the dealership or the local shop will charge me, and what the time, energy, and emotional turmoil would add up to. The cost is not just dollars and cents.
How much does a cavity cost? Or a root canal? Would just brushing and flossing have been cheaper? Yeah, probably.
The same logic should go into any professional service. Take the most basic thing I do: a Will.
You CAN do your own at home. If you get it right, its fine. Some really good resources out there to help you, too.
But if you don't:
$500 cost for the attorney ad litem to be appointed when you pass, because you had no will.
~$300 additional time required for filings for your lawyer.
? Loss of control over where you stuff goes, and who gets it
~$500-$2000 cost savings that having a will provides in options for probate.
So, what is a will worth? Baseline, $500, in reality much more. Again, the cost is more than upfront dollars.
The next common question is when to pursue a claim or not. These get a little tougher.
Caller: "Hello, (lawyer person). My (relative) died, and he had money in the bank. I need to get it."
Lawyer person: "Ok, how much was in the bank?"
Caller: "Probably $1000"
Lawyer person: "Did they have a will?"
Analysis: We already know that the no will tax is $500. The filing fees for most types of probate are a minimum of $300, with additional required costs of another $200-$300. You're already under water there, and the lawyer person has not even been paid yet. Its a poor result, that could have been fixed with a beneficiary designation. What makes sense at this point? Just walk away.
The same process goes into any lawsuit. A common one I see is when you have rental property, the tenants move out in the night and steal your kitchen appliances. They owe you $5k in rent and to replace the kitchen will be another $10k. Sue them! Right?!? Maybe not.
First, you have to find them to sue them. Problem. Next, you're looking at several thousand dollars in filing fees, costs PLUS lawyer time to get a judgment. All that may be for naught, if they don't own property (which they never do, seeing as they are renters) or have assets you can attach (again, slim). So what is the result? You were stolen from, paid $5k for a judgment that doesn't get you anymore money. Would have rather just done nothing? I think so.
In any scenario, more information can be a powerful tool in decision making. When it comes to professional services, lawyers included, you really have to consider more than just money when determining if any course of action makes sense. Is price your main driver? You may lose out on customer service, and be prepared to only have your self to blame if things don't work out.