The only things we can be certain of in life are death and taxes! Estate planning is the process of ensuring we can control what happens to our "estate" after our death. Virutally everyone does have some form of estate, from a simple heirloom through to a complex network of assets.
However, estate planning is not simply limited to possessions - estate planning can include anything from your instructions should you become unwell enough to make coherent decisions yourself, naming of guardians to care for your minor dependents, and instructions for the values you would like passed down to them, providing for transfers of businesses, and minimizing tax and legal burdens. It is a complex field of law requiring expertise across several different legal disciplines.
Simply, an estate planning lawyer can guide you through the process of legally taking charge of your estate, ensuring that your wishes are carried out, your tax burden is minimized, and all your bases - including those you may never even have thought of - have been covered.
A will is a legal document giving instructions on the distribution of your property in the event of your death. It may be modified many times over your lifetime to account for changing circumstances.
A trust involves the transfer of property from a person to a trustee, who then follows instructions to hold and use it for the benefit of a third party - a beneficiary.
Power of Attorney is a legal instruction given to another person to act in someone else's legal and financial interest, usually but not always in the case of the individual instructing them becoming incapacitated in some way.
Probate is the process of distributing your property. If it is done according to your will, it is called "testate" - you died with a valid will. Without a will it is deemed "intestate" - and this is where a significant part of your property can end up not being distributed as you intended, but rather as the court sees fit. An estate planning attorney can ensure that this does not happen to you and your loved ones.
First of all - don't overthink the issue, or consider it "morbid"! Estate planning is not about dying, but about the continuity of your legacy, and protecting your loved ones who will live beyond you.
There is also no need to overcomplicate the topic. Simply taking an inventory of all your assets and liabilities, and considering those who will be affected by your death, and where you would like the assets to go, will be an excellent place to start. Bring this information to an estate planning attorney who can then guide you from there.
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