Internet information is overwhleming and attorneys are expensive! Where can I get free info (and forms) to make sense of it all?
This web site has sample forms for many of the key documents you need. You can print and review the sample forms (the estate tax issues in the will form are a bit dated, but unless your estate exceeds $1.5M the federal tax will not be an issue, at a lower level, however, state estate taxes may require a somewhat different approach). You can discuss them with your family and loved ones and make notes of decisions. Then you can meet with a lawyer, even if they cost, and get the planning done right.
You're best off calling an estate planning specialist. Tell them you want the work done right, will help in any way you they recommend, and that you've thought all key decisions through in advance to minimize time. You should be able to get the work done for a fraction of the time and cost most people require.
Why do I recommend that approach? Because no form, no matter how good, can substitute for the knowledge and experience of an expert. It will only be by chance that the sample forms you pick will be the right forms or applied the right way. There are other supposedly inexpensive approaches, but they really don't work.
About 6 months ago a well known financial reporter prepared her estate plan using well known legal software for consumers. The problems she created for herself were so significant, and so costly by the 2nd page of my review she gave up the discussion. Her article concluded that using self help legal software can be quite dangerous. She was a very astute financial reporter, and mistakes and problems that eluded her would be missed by most lay persons. If she realized the dangers from her mistakes, imagine the mistakes a real lay person might make.
I know this is not what you want to hear, but it is the reality. If you still really want to try it alone, there is a book I wrote published by Barron's a number of years ago called Estate Planning Step By Step which really tried to walk a lay person through the process. That will be of some help if you can still get it (you might have to try a library or www.amazon.com).
Another reason an estate planner is so important is that there are so often many ancillary issues that clients don't raise that are vital to their planning. A good planner (in your area) should be able to quickly and inexpensively help you identify a range of these issues if they pertain to you: life insurance, disability planning, long term care insurance, property insurance, asset protection from lawsuits, divorce issues, investment planning issues, income tax issues and more. A good planner can home in on issues important to you in short order. You cannot get that type of judgement and personal input from a computer will preparation program or a standard form. A simple example: how do you address religious issues in a living will. This is an issue that has been all over the TV for months, yet the problem is far more common place than most people imagine. A New York court last week ruled on a case very similar the the Terri Schiavo tragedy. They patient had a living will, yet her daughter and mother fought over religoius issues and a feeding tube. Merely filling in forms really is risky.
If after the above you still really want to do it on your own, you can buy some of the home legal software packages. Print the forms from this site to consider issues the software may not address and then try to modify the software to give you the end result you need. If you opt for that approach, good luck.
Subscribe to our email list to receive information on consumer webcasts and blogs, for practical legal information in simple English, delivered to your inbox. For more professional driven information, please visit Shenkman Law to subscribe.