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Dear Liz: We want to have an estate plan that doesn’t cost a ton of money. We’re both in our early 40s and have no children. I’d label us middle class, with not much money left over after monthly bills. Lawyers want too much money to “help” us. Isn’t there a better solution?

Answer: If your estate situation is truly simple, you can draw up the documents you need with Quicken WillMaker software, which is available from the self-help legal publisher Nolo at www.nolo.com. The software costs about $50 and guides you through the process of creating wills and durable powers of attorney (which you need to name someone to make financial and health decisions for you should you become incapacitated).

Nolo also has an online will form, plus a number of books that can help you, including “Plan Your Estate” and “The Busy Family’s Guide to Estate Planning.”

The do-it-yourself approach can work when your situation is straightforward, but you should consider consulting an attorney if your estate ever gets big enough to worry about estate taxes or if complications (such as children or contentious relatives) become a factor.

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Categories : Estate planning, Q&A

6 Comments

1

Though your response focused on very inexpensive estate planning, their are serveral things that one should be careful of.

1. If a state has a has a probate law, having just a will and durable power of attorney will avoid probate costs. Sometimes these costs can far exceed the costs of an attorney to help properly plan an estate.

2. Sometimes the manner in which a married couple hold title to their assets should also be a consideration. If all a couples assets are held as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, a surviving spouse can inherit all the assets by operating of law. The couple that asked the question seem to indicate minimal assets, so possibily that may be a good way to past on assets and have a minimal estate plan.

Thank you

2

I think the last paragraph is the most important. Sometimes folks try to save a few bucks and end up spending a fortune.

I always suggest seeing an attorney if at all possible.

3

I agree. I had a Quicken will until we had our daughter. Then it became imperative that we do things right, and the money we spent on the lawyer was well worth the peace of mind.

4

I think there might be a word or two missing in your first point, because wills don’t avoid probate. I’m guessing that’s what you meant. In states like California, where probate is long and expensive, even relatively small estates can benefit from a living trust, and while you can draft those yourself, I think it’s worth the cost to use an experienced attorney.

Some states, including Washington, have modernized their probate laws so that living trusts aren’t as essential…but getting those durable powers of attorney drafted is still important.

Good point on #2. Thanks!

5

Good point Liz. Many times, folks tell me they aren’t worried about probate because they have a will. YIKES!!!!! The will almost guarantees probate!!

6

Yikes is right, if you live in California or a handful of other states where probate’s a nightmare. I wish the Golden State could get its act together and modernize its probate procedures, but I guess that would put way too many probate attorneys out of work.