Chapter 34. Get Started on Your Estate Plan

When Ginnie and Alan wrote to me in early 2009, they were feeling nervous about their portfolio's ability to last through what they hoped would be a long and fruitful retirement. But this couple wasn't thinking only about themselves. As parents of a daughter with special needs, they were seeking guidance on what to do to ensure that their child would be able to remain independent and have enough money to cover her needs. Their twenty-something daughter was employed and living on her own nearby, but she relied on them for ongoing financial support.

I gave them my ideas on how to improve their portfolio, and I also suggested that they consult an attorney about setting up a special-needs trust. But I stopped short of providing them with specific guidance on leaving a legacy for their daughter—even though I have a special-needs loved one in my life and feel knowledgeable about the topic.

While I strongly believe that you can tackle many aspects of financial planning on your own, without the assistance of a professional, estate planning—the process of distributing one's assets after death—isn't one of them. True, it's not hard to find do-it-yourself wills and other estate planning materials on the Internet. But the topic is extremely complicated and the right solution is specific to each individual. The tax laws related to estate planning have also undergone swift changes over the past several years. If you're creating or updating an estate plan, ...

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