Estate Lawyers

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What Is the Definition of an Estate?

The definition of an “estate” is the sum total of one’s possessions in both real and personal properties. It usually includes such assets as money, land, homes and structures, future interest in property, as well as items of personal property such as collectibles or unique jewelries. An estate also includes one’s debts, if any, as well as outstanding bills or taxes.

"Estate planning" refers to the process by which one distributes their estate to beneficiaries, usually upon death. An estate administrator is the person who is designated to oversee the distribution of assets. The main instrument providing for estate administration is a will.   

When Should I Start Planning My Estate?

Estate planning should correspond respectively to one’s age and marital status. For example, if a person is young, unmarried and has no children, they will usually not engage in estate planning unless they are critically ill or unusually wealthy. If the person is married and has children, it is a good time to begin estate planning so that their spouse and children will be provided for in the case of an incapacitation or death. 

If one is retired, or is approaching the later stages of life, it is an absolutely critical stage in life, and the person should have a solid estate plan firmly in place. Finally, if a person has a life partner but is unmarried, it is essential that they have an estate plan. This is because most laws do not provide for the distribution of properties to non-spouses when their partner becomes deceased.

What Should Be Included in My Estate Plan?

Depending on your age and current life situation, estate plans will vary widely. However, a good estate plan should cover at least the following basic provisions:
  • Identification and valuation of specific properties
  • Provisions for the distribution of personal properties to named beneficiaries
  • Allocating interests in real property
  • Distribution of interests in monetary and investment assets
  • Clearly identifying and naming individual beneficiaries
  • Issues involving health care and life insurance including organ donations
  • Guardianship of minor children
  • Delegating a power of attorney, especially if the person is already incapacitated
  • Instructions on how to fulfill debts and outstanding taxes
  • Funeral proceeding arrangements

If a person dies without a will, or if some concern is not addressed, then the distributions will be made according to state probate laws. Probate proceedings can be costly and time consuming. Also, the properties may be distributed in a manner that is not in line with the person’s desires. It is much more preferable to list any requests in the will rather than leave the issue unaddressed. 

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Plan My Estate?

Planning your estate is a very serious matter that can potentially affect the future of your friends and family. It is important to proceed using your best judgment in making decisions. An estate planning lawyer can help you formulate a will that best reflects your general and specific desires. When you start planning, an attorney can inform you of your state’s laws so that your estate documents will satisfy the various legal requirements.

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Last Modified: 01-28-2014 03:33 PM PST

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