ONCE THE FINANCIAL PLANNER or lawyer starts mentioning old age, illness and death, many customers crumple. "Yes," they moan. "Sell me something to protect me from those things!" And, in a flash, they?ve bought themselves a $2,000 living trust when a simple will would have done everything they needed.

What?s the difference between a will and a living trust? For one, a will can cost just a few hundred dollars while a living trust costs over a thousand. What do you get for the extra money? It buys you a trust containing most or all of your assets, which then move to your heirs without having to go through probate -- an often lengthy process where the state examines your will and declares it valid. That's a big plus in states like California and Florida, where probate is expensive and can drag on for months. And if you own property in several states, you avoid multiple probate proceedings. But in some states, probate is quick and cheap. It?s just a few hundred dollars in New Jersey.

So what else does a living trust give you? Privacy. Unlike probate, nobody can go down to the courthouse and check out who got what. Another selling point is the ability buyers have within a living trust to specify how they want their money managed once they become incapacitated, and to name beneficiaries as in a will. With a revocable living trust, you can change or amend the document with relative ease.

Say you don?t live in California or Florida, you don?t own far-flung properties and you couldn't care less if your niece goes to the courthouse and discovers that you gave the Meissen porcelain to her cousin. You?re dead anyway, right? Well then, you can probably achieve all the estate and long-term care planning you need with a will and a durable power of attorney. Unlike a regular power of attorney, the durable power of attorney has staying power in the event of a disability. You can use it to specify how your assets should be managed and by whom when you become incapable. And it doesn't even require a lawyer. You can get the forms you need at the local stationery store for a couple of dollars.