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Estate Planning Basics

Estate planning, in plain English

Learn the fundamentals of estate planning, including:

  • how wills work and why you need one
  • how you can provide care and protection for your children
  • what probate is and how you can avoid it

  • Product Details
  • Get the need-to-know basics about wills, trusts, avoiding probate, and planning for incapacity with Estate Planning Basics. This book lays out your options in plain English, guiding you to the right estate plan for you and your family.

    Learn how to:

    • make a will or living trust
    • name a guardian for your children
    • avoid probate
    • choose an executor
    • use durable powers of attorney, and
    • prepare a health care directive.

    The 11th edition is completely updated to reflect the latest information about estate planning.

    “Will be appreciated by those with modest estates who want a quick overview.”—Library Journal

    “One of the simplest and best overviews of the estate planning process.”—Wall Street Journal

    Number of Pages
  • About the Author
    • Denis Clifford

      Denis Clifford was a lawyer who firmly believed that many people can do their own legal work, particularly in estate planning. He authored several best-selling Nolo titles, including Plan Your Estate and Make Your Own Living Trust. He graduated from Columbia Law School in 1966 and practiced law in the Bay Area for many years. 

  • Table of Contents
  • Your Estate Planning Legal Companion

    1. A First Look at Estate Planning

    • Evaluating Your Personal Situation
    • Your Property
    • Choosing Your Beneficiaries
    • Providing for Young Children
    • Planning for Incapacity
    • Transferring Your Property After You Die
    • Estate Taxes
    • Making Changes
    • More Estate Planning Resources From Nolo

    2. Your Beneficiaries

    • Direct Beneficiaries
    • Alternate Beneficiaries
    • Beneficiary Complexities
    • Disinheritance
    • Talking It Over

    3. Children

    • Naming Someone to Care for Young Children
    • Naming Someone to Manage Your Child’s Property
    • Choosing How Your Children’s Property Should Be Managed
    • Naming Children as Beneficiaries of Life Insurance
    • Tax-Saving Accounts
    • Leaving Property to Adult Children
    • Leaving Property to Other People’s Children

    4. Planning for Incapacity: Medical Care and Finances

    • Medical Decisions
    • Financial Decisions

    5. Wills

    • Will Requirements
    • Types of Wills
    • Probate
    • Using a Will in Your Estate Planning
    • Preparing Your Will
    • Challenges to Your Will

    6. Living Trusts

    • How a Living Trust Works
    • Do You Need a Living Trust?
    • Living Trusts and Taxes
    • Living Trusts and Young Children
    • Shared Living Trusts for Couples
    • Making Key Decisions About Your Living Trust
    • Preparing Your Living Trust Documents

    7. Other Ways to Avoid Probate

    • Pay-on-Death Bank Accounts
    • Transfer-on-Death Accounts for Securities
    • Transfer-on-Death Car Registration
    • Transfer-on-Death Deeds for Real Estate
    • Joint Tenancy
    • Tenancy by the Entirety
    • Community Property With Right of Survivorship
    • Community Property Agreements
    • Simplified Probate Proceedings
    • Life Insurance
    • Gifts

    8. Retirement Plans as Estate Planning Devices

    • Individual Retirement Programs
    • Pensions
    • Choosing Beneficiaries for Individual Retirement Programs
    • Retirement Plans and Taxes

    9. Estate Tax

    • Federal Estate Tax Exemptions
    • State Estate and Inheritance Tax
    • Gift Tax
    • The Federal Income-Tax Basis of Inherited Property

    10. Reducing Federal Estate Taxes

    • Making Gifts During Life
    • Disclaimer Trusts
    • Tax-Saving Irrevocable Trusts
    • Disclaiming Gifts

    11. Property Control Trusts

    • Marital Property Control Trusts for Second or Subsequent Marriages
    • Special Needs Trusts for People With Disabilities
    • Education Trusts
    • Spendthrift Trusts
    • Flexible Trusts

    12. Lawyers

    • Will You Need a Lawyer?
    • Working With a Lawyer
    • Doing Your Own Research

    13. Finalizing Your Estate Plan

    • Storing Your Estate Planning Documents
    • Revising Your Estate Plan

    Appendix: Some Sample Estate Plans

    • Leslie and Martin: A Couple in Their Late 50s
    • Michelle: A Single Mother in Her 40s
    • Randy and Lisa: A Prosperous Older Couple
    • Gail and Nick: A Young Married Couple
    • Richard: A Single Man
    • Clemencia and Pierre: A Couple in Their Second Marriage


  • Sample Chapter
  • A First Look at Estate Planning

    Who needs to bother with estate planning? Here’s the short answer:

    • anyone who owns property that matters to them
    • anyone with a minor child (younger than 18), and
    • anyone concerned with possible incapacity.

    Estate planning isn’t only for the rich, nor are there minimum property requirements, such as owning a home. Anything you care about—from artworks to gold earrings to items with little or no market value, such as the old family rocking chair or loved photographs—is significant enough to warrant at least basic estate planning. The key is to ask yourself whether you own any property that you want to go to a specific person or organization when you die. If the answer is yes, you need to create a plan to make sure your desires will be carried out.

    EXAMPLE: Tracy told me she had no reason to worry about estate planning; she was a carpenter. I asked her if she was sure she owned nothing she cared about. She answered “No, nothing—well, I guess my tools.” When I pressed her a bit, she estimated they were worth, in total, more than $35,000. I told her that if she did no planning before she died, her tools would be divided, according to state law, among members of her family. She exclaimed that wasn’t what she wanted at all. Everyone knew she wanted her tools to go to her partner, Alex. I explained that she could guarantee her goal by preparing a very simple will. Later, having prepared a will, she told me, “You know, that’s been nagging at me for years.” I answered that she was definitely not alone.

    If you have a minor child, or children, you automatically have estate planning concerns. Who will raise your child if you can’t? More precisely, if you and the child’s other parent, if there is one involved, die before your child is legally an adult, who will be the adult responsible for caring for the child? Legally, there are two different adult roles involved. The first is raising and nurturing the child—having legal custody, and making day-to-day personal decisions on the child’s behalf. The second adult role is managing any property owned by, or left for the use of, the child. By law, minors cannot control any significant amount of property they own. Commonly, parents name one adult to serve in both capacities.

    EXAMPLE: Felicity and Joe have two young children, ages one and three. They own an inexpensive car, personal and household belongings, and two life insurance policies for $200,000, one on each spouse’s life. If one parent dies, the other one will, of course, carry on. But like many parents, the couple worries about what will happen if they die together. They discuss who should raise their children and manage the insurance money if they both die. They are pleased and relieved to agree that their wisest choice is Joe’s sister Susan, who loves their kids and is securely married with one child of her own. Felicity and Joe discuss the matter with Susan, who agrees to serve as guardian if the need arises.

    Joe and Felicity also are aware that present stability is no guarantee of lifetime security. If Susan’s life drastically changes for the worse, Joe and Felicity will then make new plans for the care of their children.

    Estate planning is also a good idea for anyone who has any concern about future incapacity. For most people, this concern centers around what would happen if you become incapacitated and can no longer manage your finances or make your own health care decisions. The wise way to handle these possibilities is to create binding legal documents that set out your wishes and appoint a person of your choice to make decisions for you if you can’t. (See Chapter 4.)

    Learn about your state’s intestate succession laws. If you die without a will, your state’s “intestate succession” laws will determine how your property will be distributed. You learn about your state’s intestate succession laws on at

    I’m Not Ready

    I’ve thought of putting that phrase on my tombstone, though I decided instead to use what I cried out as a child whenever my parents asked me to do a chore: “Right now?” But, all kidding aside, “I’m not ready” is how many people feel about estate planning. There are some understandable reasons for this procrastination: a busy life, a mistrust of lawyers, a sense that estate planning is boring. I suspect, though, that there’s often something more primitive at work: at least a touch of superstition, a fear that thinking about death might somehow hasten its occurrence.

    If you procrastinate until death, that could prove costly to your inheritors, and may well mean that your property will not be distributed as you wish. If you die without a will or other valid transfer device, your property will be divided between family members according to a formula established by state law. A judge will appoint someone to supervise the distribution of your property. Your estate must pay this person’s fee, which can become quite hefty.

    Similarly, if you have minor children and the other parent is not available or suitable for custody, you won’t want to take the chance that you’ll have no input regarding who will raise the children if you can’t. In sum, ready or not, it’s wise to get your estate planning done soon.


    Basic estate planning has just a few branches. I’ll sketch them out here; these subjects are then covered in more depth in subsequent chapters.

    Evaluating Your Personal Situation

    The first step in creating a sound estate plan is to look realistically at your unique personal situation. You could start with a few questions: Are you married, partnered, or single? Do you have kids? Are you in a second or subsequent marriage or relationship? If so, do you have a blended family? Stepchildren? Do you have any children from prior relationships? Do you have grandchildren? Brothers and sisters? Other close family members? Who else do you care about and want to leave property to, beyond your close relatives? Are there any causes, charities, or other institutions to which you want to leave property?

    For some, perhaps many people, these are not hard questions to answer; they don’t raise difficulties or complexities. Others don’t have it so easy. Thinking about family members can bring up worries about fights over property, or people you don’t care for, or any number of awkward or painful situations that have fueled novels and movies for as long as these arts have existed.

    Some people’s situations have built-in complications. For example, one or both people in a second or subsequent marriage may have children from earlier relationships. Many couples have “his, hers, and our” kids. Some have “his, her, and our” property as well. Deciding how to divide property between the children may not be easy. Plus there are often other concerns. For instance, after a spouse dies, suppose the surviving spouse needs the deceased spouse’s property to maintain his or her lifestyle. Perhaps the couple shared ownership of a house or condominium. Can the surviving spouse continue to live there, while preserving the deceased spouse’s share for children of prior marriages? Estate planning for second or subsequent marriages is discussed in Chapter 2; the use of trusts to control property from such marriages is covered in Chapter 11.

    Single people can have different but equally important concerns. Single parents will naturally be concerned about who will raise their minor children if they cannot. (See Chapter 3.) Also, a single person may not be sure whom to name as executor of his or her estate. (See Chapter 5.)

    A therapy guide this book is not, so I won’t launch into extended psychological discussions here about handling personal or family problems. What’s important is that you reflect on and address any problems you want or need to deal with when you leave your property.

    One subject to ponder is whether there’s anyone you want to discuss your plans with. If you’re married or partnered, you’ll almost certainly have an in-depth discussion with your mate. Beyond that, you have to decide what is wise. As you plan, do you want to discuss your planning with family members or other major beneficiaries? Sometimes, candid discussion can help you make the best decisions.

    Your Property

    At the heart of your estate plan will be decisions about who will inherit your property. But before you can make those decisions, you must know what you own.

    Knowing What You Own

    Many people, especially those doing basic estate planning, face no problem knowing what property they own. Often the major asset is a house; then there’s a car, some savings, perhaps stocks or other investments, and personal or household possessions, like jewelry or art. There may be other assets, such as any funds remaining in retirement accounts like an IRA or a 401(k) plan, where beneficiaries are named as part of the account. (Using retirement plans as estate planning devices is discussed in Chapter 8.)

    You don’t necessarily have to prepare an itemized list of your property to do your estate planning. Indeed, most people don’t need to bother with it, especially if you plan to leave all or most of your property to one or more people. However, some people find it helpful. Inventorying your property can be particularly desirable if:

    • You plan to leave many items of property to many different beneficiaries—for example, a large collection of jazz records to be distributed among dozens of fellow aficionados.
    • You are not sure what you actually own, perhaps because of shared business ownership, or because you’re not certain about your state’s rules governing marital property for estate planning purposes. (See “A Spouse’s Right to Inherit Property,” below.)
    • You want to pin down what you own so you can estimate your net worth to see if your estate is likely to owe federal estate tax. But even here, a rough estimate of total value is all you need, and you probably won’t have to itemize meticulously to make that estimate.

    If you decide you do need an itemized list of your property, many of Nolo’s hands-on estate planning resources provide thorough checklists of all significant types of property so you won’t overlook, say, your gas and oil royalties or valuable patents.

    Don’t forget your digital assets. When thinking about what shouldhappen to your property when you die, consider what will happen to the things you keep online—blogs, email accounts, photos, social networking identities, and so on. You won’t be able to use your will or trust to leave most of these things to others, but you can leave detailed instructions for your executor describing what you’d like done with them. It’s also a good idea to securely leave a list of your user names and passwords, so that your executor won’t have any trouble accessing your accounts. You can learn more about planning for your digital assets at

    A Spouse’s Right to Inherit Property

    In the great majority of states, called “common law” states, your spouse has a legal right to inherit part of your property. In these states, laws protect a surviving spouse from being completely disinherited by the other spouse. If a spouse isn’t left at least the amount required by state statute— usually one-half of the deceased spouse’s property—the surviving spouse can claim that amount, no matter what the deceased spouse’s estate plan provided. In almost all common law states, a spouse can waive his or her statutory inheritance rights. This can be done in a prenuptial agreement, or at any later time.

    Common Law and Community Property States

    Common law states are all states that aren’t community property states.

    Community property states are Arizona, California*, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington*, and Wisconsin.

    Alaska, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Tennessee allow a married couple to create a written agreement or trust defining some or all of their property as community property.

    * Registered domestic partners are also covered by community property laws.


    In contrast, “community property” states have no inheritance requirements for spouses. Instead, spouses are protected by the rule that each spouse owns one-half of all property acquired by either spouse during marriage. There are, of course, some exceptions. For example, property owned by one spouse before marriage and kept separate during the marriage remains the separate property of that spouse, as does property inherited by or gifted to one spouse.

    Planning to leave your spouse less than half. If you live in a commonlaw state, and you want to leave your spouse less than one-half of your property, see a lawyer for advice.

    Choosing Your Beneficiaries

    Your beneficiaries (W.C. Fields called them “bean-fisheries”) are the people and organizations to which you leave your property. Distribution plans can range from the simple, such as leaving everything to your spouse, to far more complex arrangements, such as using trusts to leave property to many family members over generations while also leaving property to friends and organizations at your death.

    As I’ve said, you decide who gets your property. I’ve found that most people who start estate planning know who their beneficiaries will be. You’re unlikely to need a lawyer’s help here; the most a good one could do is help you clarify your own desires if you feel confused or conflicted, or perhaps point out some difficulties that might arise if you’re considering a complex beneficiary plan. But most people face no serious problem choosing beneficiaries. The key components of a simple beneficiary situation are that your choices are clear, and that you leave your property outright, with no strings or controls attached. (One exception can be property left to minors or young adults. See “Choosing How Your Children’s Property Should Be Managed,” in Chapter 3.)

    EXAMPLE 1: Francine and Phillip, a married couple, want to leave everything to each other. When the second spouse dies, all the property will be divided equally among their three children.

    EXAMPLE 2: Lily has a son, age nine, and a modest estate. She wants to leave most of her property to her son (in a trust until he’s 30), and the remainder to her friends Kelly and Gretchen.

    EXAMPLE 3: Angela has a substantial estate, and two children, ages 45 and 36. She wants to leave the bulk of her property equally to them, plus gifts of specific heirlooms to her sister and niece, and some cash to The Nature Society.

    As I’ve said, couples in second, or subsequent, marriages may face more difficult beneficiary decisions. If one or both spouses have children from a prior marriage, conflicting desires can arise. Spouses may feel torn between leaving property to children from a prior marriage and aiding the current spouse, along with any children from the new marriage.

    EXAMPLE: Russell and Katy marry in their 50s, a second marriage for both of them. Russell has two children, ages 25 and 28. Katy has a daughter, who just turned 30. Russell’s net worth is about $370,000; Katy’s is about $560,000. They purchase a house together. Each contributes $150,000 for the down payment. Katy will pay roughly two-thirds of the mortgage payments and house expenses, because she earns considerably more than Russell.

    Both spouses feel strongly that when one spouse dies, the other should be able to continue to live in the house. But they also want their individual shares of the house to go to their own children after they both die. Neither wants to create the possibility that the child or children of the spouse who lives the longest could somehow end up owning the entire house. The couple must agree on how the house will be divided when both die, including how Katy’s extra contribution for payments and expenses will be apportioned. Also, they must devise a legal mechanism to accomplish their goals.

    The usual legal device for handling this kind of second-marriage issue is a particular type of trust; I call it a “marital property control trust.” I discuss this type of trust in Chapter 11.

    Providing for Young Children

    Parents raising young children are usually quite clear that their major estate planning concern is providing for the minors if the parents suddenly die. (A minor is any child younger than age 18.) “Providing” means deciding both who will raise the child and who will manage any money or property that the child legally owns. It may also include making plans to have sufficient property to leave the child, such as buying term life insurance. These concerns are discussed in depth in Chapter 3, but because they are so central to many people, I’ll focus on a few important points here.

    Custody of Your Children

    If the other parent is involved and survives you, that parent will normally take custody of the children. On the other hand, if there is no other parent involved, or to prepare for the possibility of the death of both you and the other parent, you can use your will to nominate a “personal guardian” who will care for your children. Your nomination is not binding on a court, however, because children are not property and cannot be willed to someone. But if custody is not contested, which is true for the great majority of cases where a child’s parent or parents die, the judge will routinely confirm the expressed desires of the deceased parent.

    EXAMPLE: Myron and Kim are divorced but manage to cooperate without viciousness in raising their young son Lawrence. Each understands that if one dies before Lawrence turns 18, the other parent will have custody. Myron dies and Kim now has sole custody. In her will, she nominates her sister Polly to serve as Lawrence’s guardian if she dies.

    It’s very difficult to prevent a parent who has been involved in raising a child from gaining legal custody if the custodial parent dies. But if the other parent has not been involved in raising the child, or you believe that parent is not fit to have custody, there are steps you can take to try to prevent that parent from gaining custody. (See “Naming Someone to Care for Young Children,” in Chapter 3.)

    EXAMPLE: Jeannette is a single mother of five-year-old Sam. Sam’s biological father has never had anything to do with Sam, neither parenting nor contributing money for child support. If she cannot raise her son, Jeannette wants her brother and his wife, not Sam’s biological father, to raise him. While Jeannette cannot guarantee this result, she can prepare a detailed written statement that explains why her brother would be the proper guardian. This statement could be very persuasive to a judge who must decide who would be the best person to raise Sam.

    Your Children’s Property

    Legally, minors cannot own any significant amount of property outright. So you need to nominate an adult to supervise and manage any property owned by your child, including property you leave to the child, other inheritances, or the child’s own earnings. There are several different legal devices you can use to leave property to your young children. These are discussed in Chapter 3.

    Planning for Incapacity

    When you begin making plans to leave your property, there’s one other vital issue to address: It’s crucial that you make arrangements for the handling of your medical and financial affairs if you ever become incapacitated and can’t take care of them yourself. Wrenching family conflicts can arise if you haven’t clearly specified your wishes. Creating binding legal documents that express your desires is discussed in Chapter 4.

    Protecting Assets in Case of Catastrophic Illness
    Many people are concerned that if they become seriously ill, all their assets will be consumed to pay for health care costs. To address this reasonable concern, some people hope that there is a simple clause or trust they can use to shield their assets. Unfortunately, no such device exists. The best you can do is: (1) Seek advice from an attorney who is knowledgeable about the type of (complex and expensive) trusts that could protect your assets, such as a “Medicaid trust” or a “domestic asset protection trust.” (2) If you’re married or coupled, learn how to protect the assets of the spouse or partner who isn’t ill. This is covered in depth in Long-Term Care: How to Plan & Pay for It, by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).


    Transferring Your Property After You Die

    To arrange for the transfer of your property to your beneficiaries after you die, you must use one or some combination of various legal devices. The two most popular are wills and living trusts. Deciding which transfer devices are best for you is the main technical aspect of basic estate planning, and it’s where law and legal documents come into play.

    At this point, some estate planning books start insisting that you hire lawyers, warning of the disasters that will befall those who dare to try to handle their own affairs without paying thousands of dollars for professional help. This is nonsense. Many, perhaps most, readers will learn that by applying their own common sense, they can safely select which device or combination of devices is best for them, without hiring a lawyer.


    A will, the simplest estate planning device to prepare, is a document that leaves some or all of your property to beneficiaries you choose. You can also use a will to name an adult guardian for your young children. Wills are discussed in detail in Chapter 5. The principal drawback of a will is that it must normally go through probate, a complicated and expensive court proceeding. Probate rarely provides any real benefit to your beneficiaries, or, indeed, to anyone, except the lawyers involved. (See “Probate,” in Chapter 5.)

    Living Trusts

    A living trust is a legal document similar to a will in function, except that no probate or other court proceedings are required to turn property over to beneficiaries. Because of this, living trusts are a popular probate-avoidance device. A living trust can only distribute property that is legally owned by the trust. So, you must legally transfer property to your trust when or after you create it. (See Chapter 6.)

    Other Ways to Transfer Property

    There are a number of other ways to transfer property—and avoid probate— that can be useful in certain situations. These methods include:

    • pay-on-death accounts for bank deposits or securities (stocks and bonds)
    • transfer-on-death real estate deeds
    • transfer-on-death vehicle registration
    • joint tenancy, a form of ownership where the surviving owner(s) automatically receive the interest of a deceased owner without probate, and
    • tenancy by the entirety, a special version of joint tenancy specifically limited to married people.

    These and other easy ways to avoid probate are discussed at greater length in Chapter 7.

    Estate Taxes

    Don’t worry about estate taxes until you find out whether or not your estate will owe them. Almost all will not. For deaths in 2022, an estate must be worth more than $12.06 million (net) before it’s liable for federal estate taxes. This amount will rise with inflation. (For more, see “Federal Estate Tax Exemptions,” in Chapter 9.)

    Making Changes

    You are not locked into anything when you prepare your estate plan, including your basic documents, such as your will or living trust. With a couple of exceptions, you can change, amend, or revoke your documents any time you want to, for any reason—or for no reason. (Joint tenancy is a special case; see “Joint Tenancy,” in Chapter 7. Also, some types of estate tax-saving trusts must be irrevocable while you live. See “Tax-Saving Irrevocable Trusts,” in Chapter 10.)

    The only limitation is that you must be “competent” when you make a change. Legally, “competence” means having the mental capacity to make and understand decisions regarding your property. You have to be pretty far gone before you aren’t legally competent to change your documents. For instance, forgetfulness, including not always remembering who people are, does not by itself establish mental incompetence.

    Some Thoughts About Death

    Though this book concentrates on practical matters, I want to acknowledge the deepest reality involved—death itself.

    We all experience the loss of family and friends; it’s the human condition. Years now after his death, I continue to feel recurrent grief and loss at the tragic, unfathomable (to me) death of my friend (and fellow Nolo author) Hayden Curry.

    Coping with the death of a loved one is intensely personal. Some people are fortunate to have religious beliefs, traditions, rituals, and ceremonies to help. Others find sources of solace and inspiration in nature, or from sacred works, or poetry. This is not a book of philosophy or religion, so I merely note that each person must seek to find his or her own acceptance—if not understanding—of death.

    However you are able to deal with the fact of death, it’s no denigration of that reality to arrange for your desired handling of your affairs. After all, the effects of sensible estate planning benefit the living. Estate planning is a gift to those you love.

    The people I’ve been close to who have died all prepared thorough estate plans. I saw and understood how important it was for them to know that they hadn’t left a mess for their friends and family to clean up, and that they had directed that their property go where they thought it would be most beneficial.

    More Estate Planning Resources From Nolo

    At Nolo we are in favor of do-it-yourself law. We have created many books and products that help you avoid hiring a lawyer whenever possible. Below is a list of Nolo products that are useful for different aspects of estate planning and related matters.

    • Plan Your Estate, by Denis Clifford, offers in-depth coverage of all significant elements of estate planning, from simple wills to complex tax-saving trusts, from funerals to family businesses.
    • Quicken WillMaker & Trust helps you to prepare a comprehensive will, which includes naming a personal guardian for your young children, naming property managers for young beneficiaries, and naming a caretaker for your pet. You can also use Quicken WillMaker & Trust to prepare a living trust, a living will, durable powers of attorney for health care, and finances, a document setting out your wishes for final arrangements, and other useful legal forms.
    • Quick & Legal Will Book, by Denis Clifford, shows you how to prepare a basic will efficiently using documents downloaded to your computer.
    • Make Your Own Living Trust, by Denis Clifford, provides a complete explanation of how to prepare a living trust. The book contains forms and information that show you how to create individual living trusts, shared living trusts, and basic wills.
    • Special Needs Trusts: Protect Your Child’s Financial Future, by Kevin Urbatsch and Jessica Farinas Jones, gives you all the information and forms you need to create a trust that provides for a person with a disability without jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits.
    • Saving the Family Cottage: Creative Ways to Preserve Your Cottage, Cabin, Camp, or Vacation Home for Future Generations, by Stuart J. Hollander, Rose Hollander, and Ann O’Connell, explains succession planning for a vacation home, covering issues that can arise with shared ownership, from choosing the right legal entity for that home to renting it.
    • 8 Ways to Avoid Probate, by Mary Randolph, offers a thorough discussion of all the major ways to transfer property at death without probate.
    • The Executor’s Guide: Settling a Loved One’s Estate or Trust, by Mary Randolph, is a comprehensive handbook to help executors and trustees wind up a deceased person’s affairs. It can also help you get your estate in shape for your own executor or trustee.
    • The Trustee’s Legal Companion, by Liza Hanks and Carol Elias Zolla, presents a comprehensive explanation of serving as a trustee of a living trust, including state-by-state charts of all relevant laws.
    • Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To, by Melanie Cullen, with Shae Irving, provides a complete system you can use to organize your legal documents, financial records, and other important personal information for your executor and other loved ones.
    • How to Probate an Estate in California, by Lisa Fialco, shows how to probate an uncomplicated California estate without an attorney.
    • Living Wills & Powers of Attorney for California, by Shae Irving, enables California residents to prepare health care and financial incapacity documents.
    • Long-Term Care: How to Plan & Pay for It, by Joseph L. Matthews, is a practical guide that provides all the information you need to help make the best arrangements for long-term care. It shows how to protect assets, arrange home health care, find nursing- and non–nursing-home residences, evaluate nursing home insurance, and understand Medicare, Medicaid, and other benefit programs.
    • Social Security, Medicare & Government Pensions: Get the Most Out of Your Retirement & Medical Benefits, by Joseph L. Matthews, shows you the way through the current maze of rights and benefits for those 55 and older, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security retirement and disability benefits, as well as age-discrimination protections.
    • Nolo’s Guide to Social Security Disability: Getting & Keeping Your Benefits, by David A. Morton, helps you understand who is eligible for Social Security disability benefits and shows you how to get any benefits that are due to you.

    You can find all of these resources on There, you’ll also find lots of free legal information on a wide range of topics, including plenty of material to help you plan your estate.

    We hope you enjoyed this sample. The complete book is available for sale here at


3 Reviews
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By Anonymous

I did not sit down and read it on arrival. One has to have time for that. So I can only comment that it really looks like it is BASIC but well presented.

Posted on 2/15/2022

Well worth the Money

By Carol J.

This product is easy to understand. It makes it easy to formulate a will.

Posted on 2/15/2022

Delivers as promised

By Colin J.

Estate Planning Basics delivers exactly what it promises—a basic but comprehensive overview of estate planning. It is of significant value to those of us who are not lawyers. It would be helpful if it included more examples for same-sex couples and IRS links for updates to estate tax exemptions. But to be fair it does provide a link on page 31 to an online resource for the legal rights of same-sex couples. Overall a very helpful guide to a complicated subject. Well done author Dennis Clifford.

Posted on 2/15/2022

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