A Conversation About Perceived Value

By Melinda Merk, J.D., LL.M. (Taxation), CFP®, AEP® (Distinguished)

This time of year, we tend to see an uptick in estate and trust administration and guardianship cases. All too often, we see situations where the deceased or incapacitated person did their estate planning on the cheap, did it themselves or, worst of all, did nothing. Unfortunately, their families and loved ones are now bearing the added cost and emotional burden of a court-supervised probate or guardianship proceeding and other unintended consequences, which could have been alleviated had the proper planning and documents been in place, working with an experienced estate planning attorney and team of advisors. Value is not just about price.

A customer asked a contractor how much it would cost to do a custom project. The contractor gave him a proposal: $4500. The customer responded: That seems really high.

The contractor asked: What do you think is a reasonable price for this job? The customer answered: $2500 maximum.

The contractor responded: Ok, then I invite you to do it yourself. The customer answered: I don’t know how to.

The contractor responded: Alright, then how about for $2500, I’ll teach you how to do the project. So besides saving you $2000, you’ll learn valuable skills that will benefit you in the future. The customer answered: Sounds good! Let’s do it!

The contractor responded: Great! To get started, you are going to need some tools. You will need a chop saw, table saw, cordless drill, bit set, router, skill saw, jig saw, tool belt, hammer, etc.. The customer answered: But I don’t have any of those tools, and I can’t justify buying all of these for one job.

The contractor responded: Ok. Well, then for an additional $300, I can rent my tools to you to use for this project. The customer answered: Okay. That’s fair.

The contractor responded: Great! We will start the project on Monday. The customer answered: I work Monday through Friday. I’m only available on the weekends.

The contractor responded: If you want to learn from me, then you will need to work when I work. This project will take 3 days, so you will need to take 3 days off work. The customer answered: That means I’m going to have to sacrifice my pay for 3 days or use my vacation time!

The contractor responded: That’s true. Remember, when you do a job yourself, you need to account for unproductive factors. The customer answered: What do you mean by that?

The contractor responded: Doing a job completely from start to finish includes time spent to plan the project, pick up materials, travel time, gas, set up time, clean up, and waste disposal amongst other things. That’s all in addition to the actual project itself. And speaking of materials, that’s where we will start on Monday, so I need you to meet me at the lumberyard at 6:00am. The customer answered: At 6am?!! My work day doesn’t usually start until 8am!

The contractor responded: Well, then you’re in luck! My plan is to start on the deck build by 8am. But to do so we have to start at 6am to get materials picked up, loaded and delivered to your job site. The customer answered: You know, I’m realizing that a lot more goes in to a job than what a customer sees in the finished project. Your proposal of $4500 is very reasonable. I would like you to handle the project.


When you pay a professional for a project (whether it’s a physical project or other professional services), you pay not only for the material and work product. You also pay for:

  • Knowledge
  • Experience
  • Custom Skills
  • Tools
  • Time to plan
  • Time to prepare
  • Professionalism
  • Work Ethic
  • Excellence
  • Discipline
  • Commitment
  • Integrity
  • Taxes
  • Licenses
  • Sacrifices
  • Liabilities
  • Insurance

If you request a proposal for professional work to be done, please don’t disrespect a service provider by trying to get them to lower their prices. If their proposal exceeds your budget, there’s nothing wrong with getting other proposals. Just remember: YOU GENERALLY GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.

SERVICE PROVIDERS: Know your worth and value, and be confident in it.

CONSUMERS: Recognize a professional’s worth and value, and be respectful of it.

Sharing this to support all my friends, family and clients who are Entrepreneurs, Business Owners, Tradesman, and Professionals.

(Republished from LinkedIn with permission)


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Melinda Merk, J.D., LL.M. (Taxation), CFP®, AEP® (Distinguished) is a principal attorney at McCandlish Lillard, a mid-size law firm servicing the Northern Virginia region, in a number of areas of law.  Ms. Merk is responsible for the Wills, Trusts & Estates division and provides holistic multi-generational income and wealth transfer tax planning advice and estate and trust services to high net worth individuals, families, and business owners.  She started her career at a boutique trusts and estates firm in Montgomery County, Maryland. After completing her LL.M. in Taxation at the Georgetown University Law Center, Melinda joined a Big Four accounting firm’s National Tax Department in the Personal Financial Services group in Washington, DC, where she consulted with clients on a nationwide and global basis as a Subject Matter Specialist in the areas of income and wealth transfer tax planning.

Ms. Merk then returned to the practice of law as a Senior Counsel in the Private Wealth Services group at a national law firm in its Northern Virginia office, with a primary focus on pre-sale planning for business owners, income and estate tax planning for international clients, and asset protection planning. She later joined another Big Four accounting firm as a Tax Director in the Personal Financial Services group. Most recently, she was a Senior Vice President and Regional Trust Advisor at a large bank’s Private Wealth Management group for the Greater Washington Region.

Ms. Merk is listed among the Washingtonian’s Top Trusts and Estates Lawyers, and is a frequent speaker and writer on estate and trust planning. She is active in the estate planning community on a local and national level, and is a current/former Board member of the Northern Virginia and Washington DC Estate Planning Councils. Melinda was also recently appointed to the Wills, Trusts & Estates Legislative Committee for the Virginia Bar Association.

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