Unless your situation is very straightforward, have your will prepared by an experienced lawyer, and hire a financial planner or estate attorney to organize your finances. A common warning we heard from experts regarded clients who didn’t want to pay for their help, not realizing it’s almost always easier (and therefore less expensive) to prepare paperwork for an estate before a death, compared to the tasks needed to complete transfer of an unprepared estate after a death. Also, experts know when laws change and will keep your arrangements up to date. And by taking care of your own estate business, you spare your family a lot of work.

If you want a financial planner, there are different types: fee-only planners, who provide only advice (and usually charge by the hour) and planners who offer advice and hold and manage your assets. The latter charge fees equal to a percentage of the total value of the account.

You don’t want an estate planner who also tries to act as a stockbroker or investment adviser: He or she shouldn’t buy and sell equities or mutual funds, or tell you which ones to buy or sell. You want an advisor whose judgment isn’t clouded by commissions and other possible conflicts of interest.

Many of the customer reviews in our financial advisors section are for financial planners; these ratings will help your search.

Chat with potential planners and estate attorneys on the phone or in person; since you’ll share very personal details, you’ll want good rapport.

For lawyers, if you don’t have a complex estate or multiple heirs, negotiate a flat fee that covers meetings and services to create and maintain a specific set of documents (will, power of attorney, advance medical directive). Even if you have a very complicated estate, it’s reasonable to ask for a cost estimate upfront.

Other questions to ask:

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