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Will your loved ones know what to do when you die? Maybe not. Sixty percent of Americans don’t have a will, an AARP study found. Sure, no one actually wants to plan for the end of their life, but it’s one of the best things you can do for the future of your estate.
And having a valid will isn’t just a necessity for older Americans. Parents with young children need to have one as well. That’s because a will and last testament can help ensure that not only are your children properly cared for in the event of your death but also that their financial future is taken care of. Though not everyone is in the financial situation to be able to save for retirement, for those that are, here are the best books on estate planning.
Best Overall: Living Trusts for Everyone
When you think of estate planning, you often think of having an up-to-date last will and testament. But a living trust is another viable option. Reviewed by the New York Journal of Books, Ronald Farrington Sharp’s “Living Trusts for Everyone” helps you set up one of these powerful documents without a lawyer, thus saving money. One of the biggest benefits of a living trust, Farrington argues, is that it eliminates probate for your heirs—a major plus. This book includes other helpful information, such as how to lower attorney’s fees, sample form letters, and easy-to-follow directions for setting up your own trust.
Best for Modest Earners: The Automatic Millionaire
“The Automatic Millionaire” covers a bit more than estate planning, but it’s worth the read. Bestselling author David Bach’s financial plan is designed to help readers live a financially successful life—think owning your home to retiring with a healthy $1 million nest egg. Using Bach’s plan, which is based on the premise of paying oneself first via automated payments, you can secure your financial future, making end-of-life and estate planning that much easier.
This book has sold more than 1.5 million copies and is a New York Times bestseller. Still, it’s worth noting that the pay yourself method isn’t financially feasible for everyone.
Best for Beginners: Get It Together
One of the most important parts of estate planning is making sure your family knows where everything is. That’s the premise behind Melanie Cullen and Shae Irving’s 2020 title, “Get It Together.” Now in its 9th edition, this book helps readers organize key information, like where important documents are stored, passwords, insurance policies, employment records, tax records, retirement accounts, and even funeral arrangements. Half book and half personal planner, this book takes the guesswork out of estate planning. Cullen has an MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University while Irving has written and edited on estate planning for Nolo, a do-it-yourself legal publisher, for nearly three decades.
Best Step-by-Step Guide: Estate Planning Smarts
This straightforward guide walks readers through everything from when to re-do a will to the rules of IRA inheritance to the mistakes people in retirement make when trying to avoid probate to how to appoint a guardian for children. It's worth noting that you’re able to include your IRA as part of your estate. Yes, really—these accounts allow you to name a beneficiary. Written by Deborah L. Jacobs, a lawyer and former senior editor at Forbes, “Estate Planning Smarts” is a solid option if you only want to read one book on estate planning. This is the 4th edition of the book.
Best for Familial Issues: Beyond the Grave
No family is without its issues, and familial conflicts don't magically disappear once it’s time to sort through a loved one’s estate. That’s where Jeffrey L. Condon’s book, “Beyond the Grave,” comes in. It helps ensure that your inheritance is allocated the way you intended, with strategies for avoiding conflict and for protecting your estate from creditors or former spouses. Condon is a practicing lawyer and has been cited as an expert source on inheritance planning in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and more. He’s also the author of “The Living Trust Advisor.”
Best for Baby Boomers: Get Your Ducks in a Row
If you’re a baby boomer, then it’s past time to get your ducks in a row when it comes to estate planning. The aptly-named “Get Your Ducks in a Row” answers your estate planning questions, defines the most common estate planning terms, and lists the primary documents you’ll need to have a well-planned estate. Written by Harry S. Margolis, this easy-to-understand book also provides guidance if your estate is more complex. This edition was updated in 2020.
Best for New Retirees: The New Rules of Retirement
Estate planning doesn’t exist in a vacuum—that’s why it’s important to have a well-planned retirement. “The New Rules of Retirement” by Robert C. Carlson educates retirees on retirement spending, avoiding common retirement mistakes, maintaining a sustainable retirement budget, long-term care plans, and how to leave your family a lasting legacy. Carlson is the editor of the monthly newsletter and website, Retirement Watch, and is the author of several other retirement-related titles, such as “Where’s My Money?”
“Living Trusts for Everyone” (view on Amazon) is our top pick because it takes the guesswork out of estate planning and lays out a step-by-step, actionable plan for establishing a living trust—all without complicated legalese.
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Rachel Morgan Cautero has a master's degree in journalism from New York University and more than a decade of journalism experience, most in the personal finance sector. Most recently, she was the managing editor of DailyWorth, a finance-based media destination for women. She’s been published in SmartAsset, The Balance, The Atlantic, Life & Money, Parents, WealthRocket, and Yahoo Finance. These titles were selected based on author credentials, reader reviews, and any relevant awards.