Your Guide to Estate Planning

Estate Planning Guide

Estate Planning Guide

Estate Planning Guide is a top online resource for estate planning and estate planning related topics. provides you with the most current information on topics like wills, probate, living trusts and inheritance. We break down the complexities of estate planning, proving you with easy to understand information so that you make informed decisions and the best choices for your estate planning needs.

We have designed and created a completely free estate planning guide that is available via a downloadable PDF or viewable on our website here. This complimentary online estate planning guide breaks down the estate plan creation process into easy to follow steps.  The guide explains the different options available in estate planning and in what situations it may make the most sense to include in your plan or speak with your estate planning attorney about. What may be the perfect solution for one person, may not be right for another. For instance, having a free or low cost last will and testament drafted, that only addresses how you would like to have your estate distributed might be the perfect option for some. For others a more comprehensive living trust that allows you to transfer your assets into it and avoid the probate process might be a better solution. The estate planning guide helps explain all of these options and also covers issues such as Advance Healthcare Directives and Power of Attorney documents. The estate planning guide also provides you with a full glossary of terms to help ensure you understand everything and address questions you may have.

Creating a comprehensive plan for your estate

Before you begin the estate planning process, you should first understand what estate planning is and what you can reasonably expect it to help you can accomplish. At the core, estate planning is the process by which individuals arrange the transfer of assets in advance of death. That being said, a comprehensive estate plan does far more than just plan for how your assets are handled when you pass. Estate planning can also allow you to plan for the care of others if you and/or a spouse should pass prior to your children reaching adulthood. Doing so is usually accomplished by designating guardians in your will or trust documents. Estate planning can also allow you to designate an Executor for your estate. This may help you feel confident that your final wishes are carried out as desired. Additionally, estate planning allows you to define the type of healthcare you would like to receive ahead of time in case a situation arises where you are unable to communicate those wishes. Many estate plans also attempt to preserve as much wealth as possible for the beneficiaries included in the estate plan by reducing legal fees, avoiding taxes and eliminating the need for probate when possible.

The following is an overview of some of the benefits of estate planning and of having a comprehensive estate plan:

  • The minimization of estate taxes, legal fees and court costs
  • Naming of guardians for the care of any non-adult children
  • Instructions for your care and/or financial affairs, should you become incapacitated prior to death
  • The avoidance of probate
  • The ability to keep your estate matters private as opposed to publicly available
  • The ability to designate who will handle your estate affairs when you pass
  • The Specification of how and to whom your assets will be distributed
  • The ability to make charitable donations of your estate assets

Generally speaking, when someone passes without having a will or living trust in place, their money and property are distributed according to laws of the state that the decedent was a resident of. Probate is the court controlled administration of a deceased person’s estate. Even with a validated will, probate is still likely to be required unless the decedent utilized a living trust in their estate planning. In probate the state reviews the will (if one exists) and determines who receives the property based on their relationship to the decedent (person who passed). Some property, such as life insurance policies, joint bank accounts and retirement accounts (as example 401Ks and IRAs) may be distributed to the person who was designated as the beneficiary with that specific account organization. In the case that it is a joint account, the person on the account with the decedent is typically granted full control over that account as well as the balance of assets held within the account. Our estate planning guide walks you through all of these steps and provides helpful suggestions along the way.

Check out our guide to creating an estate plan

Guide to Estate Planning

Guide to Estate Planning

What are some estate planning options?

A will can be a great estate planning option in some situations. One of the key benefits of a will is that it tends to be a very inexpensive or even possibly free estate planning solution. A will, also referred to as a last will and testament, is a legal document used by estate planners that provides instructions for what should happen to a person’s assets after death.  Wills are commonly used to distribute a decedents assets such as real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, cash, collections, personal effects, investments and business interests. When people say last will and testament, it is commonly used to mean the same thing as a will, but to be specific a persons last will and testament actually means the most recent version of a persons will. Wills can do more than just transfer assets. I more complex will may also be used to appoint legal guardians for children. You can also designate the executor (person who will handle the affairs of your estate) of your estate in your will. When a person passes without having a will in place, they are said to be intestate. In this situation state governed intestacy laws dictate the distribution of the property of the decedent (person who passed).

For some, one of the most negative consequences of utilizing a will for your estate planning is that it typically results in the need for probate. The probate process can be complicated and lengthy. Probate can also make the distribution of assets to your heirs more challenging since the process is reviewed by a court. To avoid the need for probate, many elect to utilize a living trust for their estate planning needs. A well written and organized living trust may also simplify the distribution of assets, sometimes helping to avoid disputes among family members.

A living trust is a legal arrangement that allows your assets to be held and managed by a third party. This third party in a living trust is known as a Trustee. The Trustee is the person or group of people responsible for ensuring that your estate is handled in the manner specified by the trust, much like the Executor of an estate. There are many different types of trusts and each has their own specific purpose. In estate planning, revocable living trusts are most commonly used and the primary purpose to avoid probate and potentially reduce tax liability.

Where to start estate planning?

You can learn more about some of your estate planning options and answers to commonly asked questions in our Estate Planning FAQ section located here. The Estate Planning FAQ addresses a variety of questions like, What is a Living Trust? What is the IRS Estate Tax? and What is a Probate? For additional information, click on one of the following Estate Planning topics or view our Estate Planning Articles located here. When you are ready to being the estate planning process, visit our online estate planning guide located here.