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Seeking Advice In All The Wrong Places

Why You Don't Want A Real Estate Lawyer
To Draft Your Estate Plan

One of the first things people ask themselves when thinking about a will is: Do I need to hire a lawyer? The answer depends on what you want to accomplish and whether you have the confidence and time to do it on your own.

Generally speaking, there aren't many formalities associated with preparing a a basic will. Even a basic living trust can be accomplished without the help of a lawyer.

There are many books and so-called kits available that guide people through the process of writing a will or preparing a living trust. These kits, which can be purchased at any office supply store or bookstore, tend to contain basic will or trust documents. You just read the instructions and fill in the blanks.

As long as your needs are relatively straightforward, these kits can meet your estate planning needs and save you some money in the process. Advanced computer software can also be had for a fraction of what even an hour's consultation with a seasoned legal professional would cost.

Still, there are some drawbacks to the do-it-yourself method that you want to consider before you jump in the car and run to your local office supply store or computer megamart.

First, doing it yourself can take time. Sure, you can buy a will kit and fill out all the forms in one night, but you probably want to spend some time researching, talking to your heirs, and taking inventory of your assets to make sure you get it right the first time. If you plan to do it yourself, you want to do a bit more reading up on the subject.

Also, you need to have the confidence that you can pull it off well. There's no sense in your second-guessing your work, staying up nights, and then finally bringing your will to a lawyer anyway because you worry that you got it wrong. Finally, seek out professional help if you have complex needs. a plan that involves multiple marriages, estate taxes, or ongoing trusts is probably best left to the pros.

If you decide to hire a lawyer, plan to shop around. Just as doctors have specialties, so, too, do lawyers. While any general practitioner can draft a will, you want someone who knows the process inside out--not someone who will spend his or her time looking up basic rules and regulations.

Even worse, you don't want someone who will just pay for the same prefabricated form you could have gotten had you decided to do it yourself--and then charge you ten times the cost!

Finding the right lawyer is time-consuming, no doubt, but it will be worthwhile to take the time to shop around. You need to find someone who knows what he or she is doing, who will charge the right price, and with whom you get along.

An excerpt from the book What Your Lawyer May Not Tell You about Your Family's Will by Kaja Whitehouse

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