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What is an estate, and what does an estate plan do?

Everyone has an "estate." Your estate includes your personal property, your real property, your bank accounts, your brokerage accounts, your retirement plans, and any other forms of property you may have - pets, perhaps, or intellectual property such as copyrights. When you die, your property passes on. In part, creating an "estate plan" by executing a Will (and in some cases, a living trust) is a process of setting out who should get that property, when they should get it, and how they should get it. You can include charitable giving in your estate plan, if you would like to do so. You also decide who will serve as executor (also called "personal representative") of your estate. This person will gather and distribute your assets according to the terms of your Will.

But estate planning is much more than deciding the fate of your property. For example, as part of a comprehensive estate plan, you can also set out 
     ▪  who you would like to act as guardian for your minor children;
     ▪  how your property can be expended on your children's behalf and when they will receive it outright;
     ▪  who will care for your pets;
     ▪  who will act on your own behalf to make property management and healthcare decisions for you, during your lifetime, if for any reason (such as illness, mental incapacity, or absence) you are unable to do so;
     ▪  what your wishes are regarding end-of-life care by using a living will ("healthcare directive").

You can name alternates in case your preferred agents cannot or decline to act. 

By creating a well-thought out estate plan, you can minimize uncertainty and provide direction regarding your wishes to those who survive you.

By: nblack
Last Updated: April 17, 2013 - 3:29pm

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