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What is Estate Planning?

What is Estate Planning?
Estate planning means much more than preparing a Last Will and Testament or tax planning for the disposition of your assets upon your death. Estate planning is the process of accumulating and disposing of an estate to maximize the goals of the estate owner. The goals of estate planning typically include making sure the greatest amount of the estate passes to intended beneficiaries, often including minimizing the amount of taxes due. Estate planning must also provide for administration and protection of assets during lifetime and for decision making in the event of a disabling illness. Any complete estate plan should contain:
1. A Last Will and Testament
2. A health care surrogate or durable health care power of attorney naming an agent (and an alternate agent) responsible for medical decision-making
3. A living will or other advance directive giving instructions concerning the type of care one wishes to receive (or avoid) in the event of a terminal illness or persistent vegetative state
4. A durable financial power of attorney naming an agent (and an alternate) responsible for asset and financial management if one is unable to do such things for oneself.
Estate planning may also include the creation of trusts. Estate planning is an opportunity to make wishes known about your health care and asset distribution and to determine what person(s) will be responsible for carrying out those directives. You are able to state your preferences concerning the type of care you receive, what types of medical care you do not wish to receive and who you wish to act as your agent in carrying out those wishes. Should you fail to do such planning, then there may be confusion as to what your wishes might have been and who you would have preferred to act as your decision-maker. In fact, without such information, your wishes may never be known.
If you do not leave a Last Will and Testament or trust, your assets will be distributed according to the laws of intestate (no will) succession in your state. There are laws in each state governing the rights of surviving spouses, heirs and next of kin in the absence of a Last Will and Testament.
Probate laws, practice and costs vary from state to state. A qualified Elder Law attorney will be able to advise you as to the probate laws, practices and costs in your state.