DIY Estate Planning

Sure, with the right instructions you can change your own oil, fix a dripping faucet, or refinish a table--but is do-it-yourself estate planning ever a good idea? The answer may surprise you.

Most people can, in fact, create most important estate planning documents on their own, as long as they have reliable, clear instructions. (After all, you wouldn't start refinishing that table without some instructions--don't write your own will until you know what you're doing.) For example, say it's been three years since you had a child, and you know that you need a will. But you haven't gotten around to calling a lawyer, and you really don't like thinking about the subject anyway. You can easily create a simple, valid will with a software program or online app, and be done.

Later, if, you have questions or think you might need more estate planning, get personalized advice from an expert. For example, if someday you acquire so much money that you are concerned about federal estate tax, have questions about passing on your small business, or want to leave a lot of money to charity, you'll want to talk to a lawyer. Your simple will, though, will still be a fine cornerstone of your estate planning. The same is true for some other estate planning steps, such as creating a living will (advance directive), or naming beneficiaries for insurance policies and retirement accounts.

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