Average Cost of a Will and Trust

How to minimize costs while providing for loved ones

A person works on a will.

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A will is one component of an estate plan that can provide your family and loved ones with directives they need to settle your affairs according to your wishes. A trust is another key element that can work in tandem with or in lieu of a will to resolve your estate after your death.

Creating a will or a trust—or both—will entail out-of-pocket costs now, but you can take steps to minimize the expense and save your heirs and beneficiaries from paying more as well.

Key Takeaways

  • A will costs less to create than a trust, but your beneficiaries will likely face probate expenses.
  • A trust avoids probate and its associated costs, but it can entail more upfront and ongoing expenses.
  • Having both a will and a trust can minimize probate costs and take care of other estate-planning needs.
  • You can use estate-planning tools other than a trust to avoid probate of certain assets.

Wills, Trusts, and Your Estate Plan

An estate plan is a group of documents that dictates your post-death decisions regarding assets and property you own. Your estate is made up of more than just major expenses such as your home and car. It can also include your financial accounts, collectibles, jewelry, and any of your possessions.

All property should be accounted for in your estate plan because the law requires that property ownership be transferred to a living beneficiary. To ensure your property is distributed according to your wishes, you’ll need to create a will and/or a trust. Your will can name an executor, who is someone that manages your estate through the probate process if you don’t place all your property into the name of a trust. You can appoint a guardian and/or conservator for your minor children if you have any.

If you don’t leave directives, any property that doesn’t pass to a living beneficiary by some means will typically be divided among your family according to state law, such as to your spouse and children. If you have a live-in partner, they would likely receive nothing.

With a trust, you can set your own rules for passing property to beneficiaries, such as that they can’t inherit until they reach a certain age or that they’ll receive their inheritances in increments. This way, you can try to ensure a beneficiary with money-management problems or an addiction can’t spend all their inheritance at once. These protections aren’t possible with a will.


An estate plan can become complicated and expensive if you own real estate in more than one state. You should have a separate will that corresponds with each state’s laws for the property that’s located there.

What Does It Cost To Create a Will and a Trust?

The cost of forming an estate plan doesn’t have to be prohibitive. Creating a will can be relatively inexpensive if you have simple directives. You can do it online or use forms purchased at an office supply store to save on attorney fees. The cost of making an online will typically totals about $20 to $100.

In contrast, hiring an attorney to prepare the document, which you may need if your case is complex, could potentially cost $100 to $300 per hour.  However, attorney fees can vary significantly depending on where you live, where your property is located, and the complexity of your case. For example, estate planning will cost more in urban areas with a higher cost of living than in rural areas.

The cost of preparing a trust is typically more than that associated with creating a will. It can run from about $600 up to $3,000 or more.


A trust is not useful until you transfer ownership of your property and assets into it. This can require paying additional fees, and you might have to pay some ongoing costs if you name a trustee to handle the property held within the trust. 

Factors That Affect the Cost

Probate costs are perhaps the greatest expense associated with passing your property to beneficiaries via a will, although they are not direct costs related to establishing the will. 

The will must be probated and this requires the involvement of a state court. The process can drag out for a year or more if your estate is significant or if there are complications. Your estate will be on the hook for filing fees, attorney fees, appraisal fees, and other professional fees during this time.

All told, probate costs can cost about 10% of your estate’s value. You won’t personally have to pay these expenses during your lifetime, but they must be paid eventually, so your beneficiaries will inherit less in the end.


As for creating a trust, the more assets that must be managed within it, the higher its initial and ongoing maintenance costs.

How To Minimize Estate-Planning Costs

You have options to lower the cost of creating a will or trust. For one, you can pass on your property to a living beneficiary in other ways. In nearly every state, the law includes alternatives.

Some states, such as Oklahoma, allow you to waive the probate requirement that your named executor must post a bond to be permitted to manage your estate through the probate process. This will save your beneficiaries some money. You can also include a directive in your will that allows your executor to sell property and take other actions without involving the probate court every time.

You can also pass property by placing “payable on death” designations on certain assets such as bank accounts and investments. This removes them from your probate estate. Naming beneficiaries directly on your retirement plans and life insurance policies serves the same purpose. These assets will bypass probate because they’re already named to be legally passed to a beneficiary.

You can hold real estate with another individual in a similar way, creating a deed that names you both as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. The property will then pass directly to your co-tenant when you die.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I write my own will?

You can legally draft your own last will and testament without an attorney, but you will take the risk of not having your estate allocated how you’d like. Online programs will typically walk you through the steps of the process, but they’re often not designed to handle complex legal issues. If you think there’s a possibility of complications, such as that your beneficiaries might try to contest your will’s terms, consider consulting with an attorney.

What’s the difference between a will and a trust?

You continue to own your property up until the time of your death when you decide to pass it on using a will. A trust requires that you transfer your property into its ownership at the time you create it. You can maintain control of the assets, however, if you create a revocable trust that allows you to alter it or shut it down at any time if you chose, as long as you’re mentally competent.

Do I need both a will and a trust?

Establishing both a will and a trust can mitigate your estate’s costs after your death because assets placed in a trust don’t have to pass through the probate process. But a trust can’t name a guardian for your minor children, so you’d additionally need a will to make these types of directives even if you will pass your assets on through other means.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. California Courts. “Wills, Estates, and Probate.”

  2. Legal Information Institute. “Will.”

  3. Oklahoma Bar Association. “Do You Need a Will or Trust?

  4. AARP. “Creating a Will Online or With a Lawyer.”

  5. Legal Match. “How Much Do Lawyers Charge per Hour?

  6. National Association of Family Services. “How Much Does a Living Trust Cost?

  7. State of Maryland. “Office of the Register of Wills.”

  8. The Maryland People’s Law Library. “Joint Ownership of Real Property.”

  9. The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. “Can I Do a Will for Myself?

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