Sure you can do it yourself. The issue is the efficiency of using an experienced attorney to get it right the first time. With unlimited time and patience I am sure you have the intelligence to do it yourself.
You are mixing apples and oranges however with you last sentence. In addition to an attorney who does not-for-profits, you need to speak to an estate planning attorney.
The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advice" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyse this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. I am only licensed in California. See also avvo.com terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.
Based on your question, you definitely need to contact an attorney with experience working with non-profits, particularly in relation to any tax exemptions (501c3 or otherwise). I suggest that you contact an attorney with non-profit experience, particularly with respect to tax. I have linked a recent blog post below that I've written on the subject which should be helpful in understanding the general process and applicable.
This advice is for INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship shall be formed as a result of the answer above.
While your intended designation as a nonprofit seems like it'd be a rather simple matter, that's not always the case, and your particular circumstances raise a few unique issues. You may be receiving grant money, for one; so how's that being monitored? Have you consulted the California corporations code as it relates to non-profits; do you know the organizational requirements? You're also devoting a lot of your own wealth into this, it seems--so who are your board members? What happens if the research non-profit changes hands at all? What happens when one spouse dies? Truthfully, your estate may be the more complicated aspect. I encourage you to seek out a business attorney that advises non-profits and handles estate planning on a fairly sophisticated level. They should be findable, as opposed to having to hire two attorneys.
The information contained in this post is not intended as and should not be construed as legal advice. Please consult with legal counsel before taking any action based on this information.
Yours is a great question. As you can tell from the other lawyers, it would be best for you to work with a lawyer on this fine endevor. This is one area where you should also purchase and read a few books on the proper way to run a non-profit. You want to be familiar with the many intricacies and record keeping tasks involved. Good Luck.
*Scott G. Nathan has been licensed to practice law in California since 1983. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should it be construed as legal advice for any particular case or matter. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with Scott G. Nathan or my law firm. For specific advice about your particular situation, you should consult with an attorney immediately.