I'd like to understand in detail how to set up a living trust - and to understand the tax benefits. I don't have the money to go to an attorney, CPA, or anything like that, but want to make sure I leave something for my daughter. Is it at all possible for me to do this on my own?
Estate Planning Attorney
Clearly, any intelligent individual can learn enough about any subject to muddle through if they have the time to do it, and even then the results would be questionable. There are self help possibilities, e.g. We the People or Legal Zoom. But please be aware that all you are buying with these services is paper...they cannot legally give you nor will they give you counsel/advice. I would NEVER recommend using a service of this nature but if you refuse to pay for counsel (from a competent estate planning attorney), these options are second best, If you don't want to pay for this paperwork, you can get it for FREE at the law library. But remember, what you are getting from the library or a legal forms prep service is PAPER ONLY...legal counsel is what you should be getting, and that is not free. Other than law school, I am not aware of any educational service to teach you how to create and understand the law of trusts. There may be a "Dummies" book, I suppose. I hope this helps.
Attorney Greenwood has provided you with an excellent answer. Nobody likes to pay money to an attorney to help them set things up. It is an expense that you are likely to never see the benefit of. But for that same reason, you need to make sure that things are set up correctly, because you will not be around to help correct or change things, if something is not set up the way it should be. You have worked all of your life to amass the things that you have, and you owe it to your daughter to get this done right.
Most people go to a mechanic to have their brakes fixed. It is possible to do it yourself. But if you do something wrong, it can lead to expensive problems. The same thing is true with estate planning. If it is not done correctly, your daughter could be left with an expensive mess to clean up, instead of the inheritance you want for her to receive.
Most people find that it costs far less to hire an attorney to prepare the estate plan than they expected. Many attorneys will work with you and accept installment payments, if that makes it easier for you.
Attorneys go to school for years and take expensive continuing education programs to educate themselves on how best to plan your estate. They know what questions to ask to determine if there are other areas of concern that you may not have thought of. What you get is someone who knows how to set things up properly, and the peace of mind from knowing that everything is in order. You also get a resource for your daughter to go to, in the unlikely event that there ARE problems, down the road. If you set it up yourself, what is your daughter left with, when you are gone?
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER I am licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan and have offices in Wayne and Ingham Counties. My practice is focused in the areas of estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state. If I refer to your state's laws, you should not rely on what I say; I just did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant that I hoped you would find helpful. You should verify and confirm any information provided with an attorney licensed in your state.
Debt Collection Attorney
Although it is possible to prepare your own revocable living trust with pourover will, the law is complicated and difficult to understand.
Following are links to two pamphlets published by the State Bar of California: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=7xX4AesY230%3d&tabid=1341 and http://www.calbar.ca.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=f8ePCR59jYc%3d&tabid=1339.
The State Bar of California also offers a free fill-in-the-blanks statutory will: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Portals/0/documents/CAStatutoryWillForm_ab_1986_bill_20100715_chaptered.pdf. You may wish to prepare this will and keep it until you can afford to hire an attorney.
Divorce / Separation Lawyer
I saw a television program about a man who gave himself a root canal using gravel from his driveway to replace his own teeth.
Yes, you can set up your own living trust and you can give yourself a root canal. But would you give your daugher a root canal using driveway gravel? You say the trust is for her benefit.
Personally, I prefer to leave things that important to trained professionals who specialize in that kind of work and carry insurance in case they make a mistake.
This answer does not make me your attorney. My answer was only intended to provide general information and cannot be construed as legal advice. No attorney can offer advice without detailed background information which may reveal hidden issues and concerns impossible to anticipate in this format. This response does not establish an attorney/client relationship. I do not check this website regularly, so I may not respond to further postings here. I strongly advise the reader to seek the counsel of a qualified attorney or consult a legal self-help center in their local jurisdiction as laws, rules, and procedures vary from place to place. IRS CIRCULAR 230 DISCLOSURE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, please be advised that any U.S. Federal tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used or relied upon, and cannot be used or relied upon, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code, or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.
Estate Planning Attorney
The short answer to your question is Yes! Yes, it is possible to set up a living trust without a lawyer, the same way it is possible to
--build a house without a carpenter;
--repair your faucets without a plumber;
--hunt for your own food without going to a grocery;
--fix your car's transmission without a mechanic;
--walk across the country without a map or a compass;
--diagnose an illness just by plugging symptoms into an online medical website
You can do all these things and more, but will your results be any good...and will they hold up?
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