Top positive review
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Great primer and resource, but get the companion software
on June 20, 2003
BOTTOM LINE: Many people looking into getting an attorney to prepare a simple will have probably had sticker shock - several hundred dollars minimum for a competent attorney to prepare it. But as this book explains, do it yourself estate lawyering, while not prudent for complex situations, is clearly within the reach of those with even moderately complex situations and the patience to spend a leisurely weekend reading this book.
WHAT IT COVERS: This book is primarily a primer, explaining the foundations of estate planning including: an overview and whether you actually need to spend time reading the book and drafting estate docs, drafting a will, how to think about what assets will go to which family members and other beneficiaries, financial instruments such as brokerage accounts/bank accounts/life insurance and how they fit into wealth transfer, as well as powers of attorney and health care directives. What I like best about the book is that you know you are getting candid advice from someone not trying to bill you by the hour or sell you variable annuity life insurance. In my own area of expertise - finance - the fact that the author's opinion regarding life insurance is dead on (tax planning should be kept separate from investing strategies and as such variable annuities are complete bunk) gives me great comfort that I'm getting straight shooting advice in the rest of the book.
WHAT IT CAN BE USED FOR: The book can serve readers on two different levels. If you are going to get a lawyer anyway but are the type of person that wants to be educated when you talk to lawyers/accountants/brokers, this book will have you speaking the same language and is an easy read over the course of a weekend. If you want to prepare an estate plan yourself, this book serves as an ample resource to help create the necessary docs. The fill-in forms in the back are certainly capable of serving as the basis for your basic estate docs, but at the same time it may be more comforting to most people to have a seamless document that they are not penciling in blanks, which leads to my next point...
THINK ABOUT GETTING THE COMPANION SOFTWARE: This book is published by Nolo Press, a well-respected publisher of legal self-help books. They also publish a software title in conjunction with Quicken (makers of the financial planning software) called Quicken Lawyer which not only has an offline/online legal manual with much of the info included in this book, but its main function is to create a battery of estate documents for you through very simple step-by-step interviews - you answer the questions, it drafts the legalese, you print and execute it. I would almost recommend just getting the software instead b/c there is a decent offline/online manual included, but for those that really want to know the why behind what they're doing, get this book and the software. See my review on Quicken Lawyer Personal Deluxe for more info.
LIMITATIONS: The book readily admits there are situations that require an attorney and points out throughout the book which situations require it. In general, get an attorney if you expect to owe federal estate tax (threshold is currently estates over $1.5 mm, but rising rapidly through 2010), have an ex-wife or two, have kids that don't speak to each other, or other complex family dynamic.