Money Matters

Hiring an attorney for estate planning is the wise move

July 21, 2012 

Q. We bought one of those will-maker kits so we have our wills in place along with health, financial and durable powers of attorney. Now I’m putting a folder together for my sister in the event my wife and I should predecease her since she will be our executrix. Is there a list of what should be included in a folder of this type?

I am not a big fan of do-it-yourself estate planning. Utilizing these programs can help you get a handle on how you want your estate plan structured, which will save you time and money with an attorney, but you may be setting your heirs up for conflict, misinterpretation, problems and possible tax consequences that could have been avoided. I thought I knew exactly how I wanted our estate documents to be drafted, but when we met with our attorney to update our plan, he came up with at least three important issues I had not considered.

Unless your situation is extremely simple, I suggest you hire an estate-planning attorney to, at the very least, review the documents you have completed with the software you purchased.

Organizers are available to make it easier for your survivors in the event of your death. One of the best I’ve seen is offered by the American Institute for Economic Research. It sells for $10, but through July they are offering a limited number of free hard copies and unlimited free digital copies. I prefer the digital version because you can type in your information, save and print.

To receive a free digital copy, visit, and if copies are still available, a free hard copy can be obtained by calling 888-528-1216 and pressing zero.

The booklet, “If Something Should Happen: How to Organize Your Financial and Legal Affairs,” will help pull together everything into one single place. The author is Marla Brill, an AIER research associate. Her booklet discusses creating a will and where to keep financial documents, and provides worksheets for recording financial, personal, medical and insurance information. It also includes resource information on prepaid funeral arrangements, wills, trusts and powers of attorney.

It is divided into three sections, and the third, “Organizing your records,” will answer your question. This section provides a series of fill-in-the-blank forms to help create a “master plan” to share with your sister. It covers where to keep your records, including the important point of not keeping original papers that your family will need upon your death in a safety deposit box. These are often sealed once the bank learns of the owner’s death and may not be reopened until a tax department representative lists the contents and gives the bank permission to allow access to the survivor or executor.

Holly Nicholson is a certified financial planner in Raleigh. She cannot answer every question. Reach her at or P.O. Box 99466, Raleigh, NC 27624

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