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Feature Article


Estate planning - Where do I begin?

Janet LaFon, family financial education specialist, Jasper County, University of Missouri Extension

The topic of death and what will happen to your belongings when you're gone is not an easy one to think about or to discuss with family members. If it's something that concerns you and you haven't already developed an estate plan, you may be wondering where to start. A question that is frequently asked is, "Do I need an attorney?" While it may be legal to do it yourself, it's not advisable. Lawyers can help you develop a document that says exactly what you mean in a manner that will see that your wishes are carried out. He or she can also help you understand the ins and outs of inheritance laws and estate taxes.

If you don't already have an attorney, you may be wondering how to find one. Probably the best place to begin is through referrals. Visit with friends, relatives and business associates to see whom they would recommend. The Missouri Bar Association also has a lawyer referral service that can help you locate lawyers in your area. This lawyer referral service can be found online at or you can call 573-636-3635.

One concern that is often expressed is about the fees charged for developing an estate plan. It's appropriate to ask about fees up front. Many attorneys will give a free initial consultation and then quote a flat fee they would charge if you choose to hire him or her.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is to be prepared before going to see an attorney. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Gather personal information for yourself and other family members. This would include such things as legal names, birth dates, addresses and telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, marital status, employers and citizenship status.

  • Determine what you own and what you owe, the value of these items and how property is titled. Also include where the items and relevant documentation are located.

  • Decide what is important to you. Who do you want to provide for through your estate plan? How do you want property distributed? How do you define fair? Who do you want to speak on your behalf?

  • Discuss your thoughts with your spouse and family members.



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Last update: Monday, May 17, 2010