NOLO publishes business and legal guides that are consistently easy to comprehend and helpful to the layperson. This 7th edition of Estate Planning Basics is straightforward in it's organization and in the advice that it offers.
If you've avoided dealing with estate planning, the book does give some steps that can be implemented as you're still deciding how best to allocate whatever assets you might have. Here are a few of the things that I found particularly helpful:
(1) the description of different ways to transfer property (wills, living trusts, pay-on-death accounts for bank deposits and securities, transfer-on-death real estate deeds, transfer-on-death vehicle registration, joint tenancy, tenancy by entirety) some of which can be undertaken without necessarily hiring an attorney;
(2) Estate Planning Basics - doesn't cover all the different scenarios and instead suggests a variety of NOLO books for more specialized concerns such as blended families, families with young children, online living trusts, special needs trusts, trusts for pets, planning for long term care, etc.
(3) shared gifts - raises questions re: partitioning, whether the beneficiaries should sell the property or share ongoing ownership of the property.
(4) "dead hand" controls -trying to impose conditions that control use or gifting of the property after you die - whether to keep property within the family or giving the gift only under some conditions, or control the property for a set period of time.
(5) suggesting couples use a survivorship clause or a simultaneous death clause in their wills
(6) legal challenges and lawsuits against your estate
(7) drafting an ethical will as a separate document. An ethical will is a document through which someone expresses the beliefs and experiences that have mattered most in his/her life and while this can be valuable both to the person writing it and to his/her heirs, they recommend that you use a separate document for your ethical will so that it is not joined with the practical details of the will or trust and managing material assets.
(8) the importance of creating a UTMA (Uniform Trust for Minors Act) trust for minor children or a family pot trust and their benefits over assigning a "property guardian" to manage the minor children's property.
(9) the value of tax-saving educational investment plans (529 plans) and Coverdell accounts for families with young children.
(10) Spendthrift trusts for adult children
(11) Suggestions re: ways to leave gifts for other people's children depending on the value of the gift, etc.
(12) Planning for incapacity, medical care and finances: discusses and compares the living will, durable power of attorney, advance health care directive, health care agent, attorney in fact for finances, springing power of attorney, durable power of attorney for finances. Also discussed are DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders and POLST Forms (Physician's Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment).
(13) the discussion on the types of legal wills such as the holographic (handwritten) wills (which the author does not recommend), pour over wills (also not recommended), statutory wills (only recommended for uncomplicated situations), electronic wills (only valid in Nevada), oral wills (also not recognized in most states), and video wills (not recognized).
(14) discussion of how all property left by will must go through the expensive process of probate. The author discusses the importance of having the will be part of one's larger estate plan.
Overall, Estate Planning Basics, is good at what it does insofar as it gives the reader a broad perspective on estate planning. It's likely a good beginning book to help someone develop an understanding of the possible issues and find resources geared towards his/her specific needs.
The main reason that I only gave the book 3 stars is that more than other NOLO books, this Estate Planning Basics, focuses and is limited to an overview. While Atty. Clifford discusses a variety of scenarios and fact patterns, the book doesn't have sample forms for the reader to use. Admittedly, sample forms may do more harm than good as it may encourage readers to undertake drafting these documents on their own without fully reflecting or comprehending the importance of certain choices. Another negative is that the section on same-sex marriages hasn't been updated to reflect the changes in federal law.
About the Author:
Denise Clifford is a practicing estate planning attorney and the author of several bestselling books on estate planning, including Make Your Own Living Trust and Plan Your Estate (Nolo).