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Why You Need a Will: Trusts Costs and Resources
(Continued from part 1 of Why You Need a Will)

Trusts

Many people prefer using the trustee option, but it costs more money and involves setting up a trust. In a trust, you place whatever assets in your children’s name and then appoint a trustee to watch over those assets on the children’s behalf. Unlike a guardian, whose job ends when a child is no longer a minor, a trustee can continue watching over the assets even after a child turns 18. For instance, many parents choose to dissolve a trust when the child reaches the age of 25, thinking the child will be sufficiently mature at that age so as not to squander the money. Both a trustee and a guardian have discretion to spend your money for a child’s tuition, clothing, household expenses and other broad needs.


Even though a trust costs more to have drawn up than a simple will, it is usually preferable to a guardianship because it will save money in the long run.


“The guardian manages the money under the supervision of the court, whereas the trustee doesn’t,” says Nelson. Unlike a trustee, a guardian must regularly report to the court as to how money is spent and why. “You don’t want this person to have to go to the expense of going to court constantly because the estate will have to pay for that,” he explains. In short, a guardianship is as if you are hiring the judge to be in charge of your assets.


Costs and Resources




The cost to have these legal documents drawn up ranges from $500 to $2,000 or more, depending on how many assets you have, whether you want a trust (and, if so, how complex it will be), whether your attorney is giving you tax advice on how to structure your documents to avoid estate taxes, and any other special circumstance that would increase an attorney’s time spent drafting your documents.


Some local bar associations provide free or low-cost legal services to low-income families. If you think you qualify, you might try calling them to see if this is the case in your area (see Resources).


If you are pretty good at deciphering complex issues, then some state bars provide forms you can purchase for a nominal fee. In addition, several publishers offer similar information in books, the most popular of which are published by Nolo Press (see Resources).


The two best-selling software programs for constructing wills are Quicken Lawyer by Intuit and Family Lawyer by The Learning Company, which sell for $20 to $50, depending on which version you buy. Usually for a fee, you can download will-making software from the Internet. No one program seems to be outselling the rest, and most can be found by doing a simple Internet search.


Be aware, however, that it’s difficult for any single book, form or software program to be as comprehensive as you might need. The laws pertaining to wills and trusts vary significantly from state to state. These differing laws, plus the fact that estate law can be very complex, mean that you assume a certain amount of risk when you take it upon yourself to formulate your own documents.


“Clients should be wary of wills-in-a-box,” cautions the Bar Association’s Belcher, “They may create more problems than they are going to solve. One size does not always fit all.”




mal style="tab-stops: 0in .5in 1.0in 1.5in 2.0in 2.5in 3.0in 3.5in 4.0in 4.5in 5.0in 5.5in 6.0in right 6.5in">Belcher warns that if your will is not adequately drawn up, it could significantly increase administrative expenses, or fail to be effective in carrying out your wishes. Still, do-it-yourself wills are certainly preferable to having no will at all, and most lawyers acknowledge that most are adequate for people who don’t have a lot of assets.


mal style="tab-stops: 0in .5in 1.0in 1.5in 2.0in 2.5in 3.0in 3.5in 4.0in 4.5in 5.0in 5.5in 6.0in right 6.5in">Whatever it takes to get your legal affairs in order, you can justify the time and expense by realizing that it’s not a luxury, but a responsibility you have as a parent to plan for your children’s future.


mal style="tab-stops: 0in .5in 1.0in 1.5in 2.0in 2.5in 3.0in 3.5in 4.0in 4.5in 5.0in 5.5in 6.0in right 6.5in">RESOURCES 


mal style="tab-stops: 0in .5in 1.0in 1.5in 2.0in 2.5in 3.0in 3.5in 4.0in 4.5in 5.0in 5.5in 6.0in right 6.5in">On the Web


mal style="tab-stops: 0in .5in 1.0in 1.5in 2.0in 2.5in 3.0in 3.5in 4.0in 4.5in 5.0in 5.5in 6.0in right 6.5in">FindLaw.com – The consumer section of this site is designed to help you find an attorney. It features legal guides on a variety of subjects, including wills and estate planning at www.guidesconsumer.pub.findlaw.com/money/estate/


mal style="tab-stops: 0in .5in 1.0in 1.5in 2.0in 2.5in 3.0in 3.5in 4.0in 4.5in 5.0in 5.5in 6.0in right 6.5in">• It’sLegal.com – Provides information on finding a lawyer, as well as do-it-yourself legal solutions. Learn about wills and trusts at  www.itslegal.com/infonet/wills/Estate1.asp


mal style="tab-stops: 0in .5in 1.0in 1.5in 2.0in 2.5in 3.0in 3.5in 4.0in 4.5in 5.0in 5.5in 6.0in right 6.5in">Nolo.com – Nolo Press sells its books and software here, but the site also features thorough and easy-to-understand law centers. Read about estate planning at www.nolo.com/encyclopedia/ep_ency.html




Organizations

American Bar Association (
ABA) – The public information section of the ABA’s Section of Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Web site provides answers to commonly answered questions: www.abanet.org/rppt/public/home.html


National Association of Financial and Estate Planners – Provides a detailed tutorial on basic estate planning at www.nafep.com/estate_planning


Return to: Why You Need a Will

See also:  Choosing a Guardian for Your Children





Patti Paniccia is a lawyer and a former CNN correspondent. She teaches “Gender and the Law” at Pepperdine Law School in Malibu, Calif., and is the author of Work Smarts for Women: The Essential Sex Discrimination Survival Guide, which can be purchased at a discounted rate on her Web site, www.worksmarts.net


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