Planning an estate is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and for your family members. Despite its importance, estate planning is often considered a low priority by many people, even as they age. Creating a proper estate plan can make the difference between having your assets and other property distributed as you wish, versus having a court make decisions that may not reflect your intentions. It's never too early to begin to plan, and people who do so early on have the advantage of becoming more knowledgeable about estate laws over time. This section provides basic tips and information to help you begin planning your estate, and information for consulting with an estate planning attorney is provided. In addition, you may want to download FindLaw's Guide to Estate Planning [PDF] for quick reference.
Estate Planning Statistics
According to the American Bar Association, 55% of Americans pass away without a will or other estate plan in place. For Americans under the age of 35, the percentage without some form of estate plan in place is over 90%.
Types of Estate Plans
A will, a power of attorney, and a trust are some of the types of estate plans. As you begin planning, it's important to be informed about the various forms of estate plans, so that you can decide which is the most suitable. For example, one plan might be more advantageous than another when it comes to estate taxes. Note that estate planning includes healthcare power of attorney, which grants another person the right to make medical decisions on your behalf, and special accounts to pay for school tuition that avoid the gift tax.
The federal government and each state have enacted estate laws. These laws cover issues such as estate taxes, procedural requirements for planning an estate, and the dispute settlement process. If you're considering an estate plan, make sure you fully understand the laws that apply, so that you can make an informed decision in choosing the plan that most suits your needs and wishes.
The Consequences of Failing to Plan
In extreme cases, a failure to plan one's estate can lead to ugly disputes and costly lawsuits between family members. If a court is asked to distribute assets, it may do so in a way that doesn't reflect the decedent's wishes. Also, it can take a year or more for a court-appointed executor to locate and manage estate property. Another consequence of lacking an estate plan is the payment of unnecessary taxes and other costs.
How an Attorney Can Help
An estate planning attorney can answer your questions about the various forms of estate plans and explain the features and benefits of each. He or she can also help you to set up a plan that distributes your estate according to your wishes. This section provides a link for consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney in your area.