Get your estate plan in gear

Don't put off this important piece of the financial-planning process.

Christine Benz 28 September, 2018 | 5:00PM

When Ginnie and Alan wrote me to request feedback on their portfolio, they were feeling nervous about its ability to last through what they hoped would be a long and fruitful retirement. But this couple wasn't thinking only about themselves. As parents of a daughter with special needs, they were seeking guidance on what to do to ensure that their child would be able to remain independent and have enough money to cover her needs. Their 20-something daughter was employed and living on her own nearby, but she relied on them for ongoing financial support.

I gave them my ideas on how to improve their portfolio, and I also suggested that they consult an attorney about setting up a special-needs trust. But I stopped short of providing them with specific guidance on their leaving a legacy for their daughter -- even though I have a special-needs loved one in my life and feel somewhat knowledgeable about the topic.

While I strongly believe that you can tackle many aspects of financial planning on your own, without the assistance of a professional, estate planning -- the process of distributing one's assets after death -- isn't one of them. True, it's not hard to find do-it-yourself wills and other estate-planning materials on the Internet. But the topic is extremely complicated, and the right solution is specific to each individual. The tax laws related to estate planning also tend to change somewhat frequently.

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About Author

Christine Benz

Christine Benz  Christine Benz is Morningstar's director of personal finance and author of 30-Minute Money Solutions: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing Your Finances and the Morningstar Guide to Mutual Funds: 5-Star Strategies for Success. Follow Christine on Twitter: @christine_benz.