Estate Planning

Everyone needs to create some form of end-of-life financial plan, whether it's for yourself or a loved one like a parent. With these resources, learn how to talk about and plan a financial legacy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is estate planning?

    Estate planning is the process of organizing and managing your assets in the event that you suddenly pass away. As part of the process, you determine who will make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated or die suddenly. Estate plans may include legal documents such as wills, living wills, powers of attorney for health care and finances, trusts and letters of instructions. Unless you leave a plan, a court could decide the guardianship of your children (if you have them), and transfer of your assets.

  • How much does estate planning cost?

    Estate planning will cost different amounts depending on the individual. Generally, costs of probate and attorney fees vary from state to state, and according to personal circumstances. When it comes to hiring a lawyer to write a will specifically, you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $1,000.

  • What is the role of an executor in the estate planning process?

    An executor is appointed by law to oversee the execution of someone’s will after their passing. The role will vary, but it generally involves gathering assets, settling debt, and distributing belongings to heirs. Decedents typically name their executors in their wills, and the judge will almost always appoint these individuals unless beneficiaries object. For example, someone may designate a sibling to oversee their will in case they die—in that case, the sibling becomes the executor.

  • When should I start estate planning?

    Technically, there is no perfect age to start planning your estate. One key milestone, though, that typically sets the process in motion is when an individual or couple has a child. New parents will want to consider estate planning, in that if something were to happen to one or both of them, the child’s welfare will need to be taken into account. As your life and financial priorities become more complex with age, and your assets change, you will need to consistently review your estate plan to ensure it meets your needs.

  • Does a will always have to be probated?

    Probate is the court-supervised process of settling someone’s estate, including authenticating the person’s will, locating assets, paying creditors, and distributing assets according to the person’s wishes. If property is distributed through a will, or a person dies without a will, then it will be probated. In some cases, individuals will not have to go through probate. This happens when assets are jointly owned, have a designated beneficiary, or are held in a trust.

  • What happens if you die without a will?

    At its most basic level, a will provides instructions for how to divide property and assets to loved ones after an individual dies. If you die without leaving a will, assets will pass in accordance with state intestacy laws, which means a court and judge will then decide who receives your assets. This process is dependent on the state. In New York, for example, if you die without a will, a surviving spouse inherits the entire probate estate if there are no children or other descendants.

Key Terms

Woman on her computer
The 6 Best Online Will Makers of 2022
Mother hugging daughter on beach
A man looks at documents at a table in a home.
Executor of a Will
Image shows three people, a younger man and woman, and an older man. Text reads: "Two basic types of trusts. Revocable: plan for the mental disability and avoid probate of the assets that the trustmaker funds into trusts. Trust creator can name someone else to take over management of the trust should s/he become mentally incapacitated. Trustmaker reserves the right to dissolve the change of the trust at any time. Irrevocable: move assets out of the trustmaker's name and control to eventually transfer to the next generation for their use and enjoyment; Trustmaker cannot take property back"
A Primer on Revocable and Irrevocable Living Trusts—Do You Need One?
Woman signing will
Per Stirpes
Couple talking with a lawyer
Last Will and Testament
A woman looks at her deceased parent’s debts while speaking on the phone with a probate attorney.
What to Know About Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate
Person writing in a binder
A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Your Own Will
Information Needed to Make a Living Trust
Revocable Living Trust
A family grieves together.
What Happens to Your Parent's Finances When They Die?
Couple at a table looking at paperwork with a financial planner
What Is the Federal Estate Tax?
Family meeting with insurance agent
Irrevocable Trust
Financial advisor trustee meeting with couple
Person visiting a parent in the hospital, discussing matters with a doctor
Durable Power of Attorney
Portrait of young couple hugging and smiling in front of their new home
Should You Own Property as Joint Tenants With Rights of Survivorship?
Woman completing last will and testament
The Basics of Intestate Heir Law As It Applies to Inheritance
A couple takes a walk with a dog in the park.
Pour-Over Will
Elderly woman writing at home
Do You Need a Revocable Living Trust or Only a Will?
Overhead view of two judges talking in a courthouse corridor
Probate Judge
Couple meeting with financial advisor
The Pros and Cons of Using TOD Accounts to Avoid Probate
Smiling father and son looking over paperwork on a table
Trust Fund Options for Paying Adult Beneficiaries Their Inheritances
Asian woman holding various expense bills and entering them into computer
How Much Can You Claim for Funeral Expense Deductions?
Couple seated on floor with coffee, looking at a tablet
Tenants by the Entirety: Does Your State Recognize This Ownership?
Two women discussing potential life insurance beneficiaries
What Happens When a Beneficiary Predeceases the Person Making the Will?
A nurse supporting an elderly woman as she stands at an open door
How Filial Responsibility Impacts Your Parents' Medical Bills
Closeup of a woman's hands signing a last will and testament
Wills, Trusts, and Estates: Facts You Need to Know
A Couple Meeting With Lawyer discussing a pour-over will.
When You Need a Pour-Over Will in Estate Planning
A senior couple at home using a computer.
Why You or a Loved One Need to Hire an Elder Law Attorney
A smiling family gathers with everyone looking at an iPad.
Enhanced Life Estate Deed
Father and son standing beside a woodpile outside a barn
Life Estate
locate request probate records
A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Probate Records Online
A woman wearing glasses reviews documents
How Long Will Probate Take?
Couple signing papers at home with a man smiling on
Learn What a Successor Trustee Does With Your Trust After You Die
Mature couple meeting with a financial advisor in a casual white office
Joint and POD Accounts Avoid Probate But Aren't Foolproof
vintage key and old treasure chest on wooden table
Learn the Differences Between Revocable and Irrevocable Living Trusts
Mature woman hugs her two dogs in the mountains
What Is a Pet Trust?
Woman advising old man on paperwork
Learn the Difference Between Per Stirpes and Per Capita Distributions.
Senior woman and lawyers reviewing paperwork at a dining room table
How Will Probate Affect Your Tenants-in-Common Property?
Grandparent and child fishing
How to Leave an Inheritance to Your Grandchildren
Couple discussing a living will with an estate attorney
Do You Need a Living Will, a Living Trust, or Both?
A person holds a tablet and writes on paperwork while sitting on a couch
What Is Contesting a Will?
Person reviewing paperwork with lawyer
Here’s How To Avoid Costly, Time-Consuming Probate
A couple plans their wills.
Types of Wills
Mourners gathered at a funeral
Ancilliary Probrate
Person in purple tank top embracing child in their arms
What Is an Heir?
A man and a woman looking at papers and a computer
How To Find a Deceased Person's Will
What Are the Responsibilities of a Power of Attorney After a Death?
Elderly couple reviewing papers on sofa
Grantor Trust
Senior couple looking over paperwork at their computer
Rights You Might Have As Someone's Heir-at-Law
A couple stands with their baby in front of a large glass door.
Credit Shelter Trust
keys to home with budget sheet and calculator
Types of Property Ownership
A person looks at a paper.
What Is Springing Power of Attorney?
Laughing older couple seated on the porch of their home, overlooking waterway
Paying Too Much for Property Taxes? Your Age Can Make a Difference.
Man holding an umbrella over a stack of coins to give protection of assets from rain
How to Create an Asset Protection Plan to Shield From Creditors
Person signing paperwork in regards to a bank account
Avoid Probate With a Payable on Death (POD) Account
Woman helping older couple with documents
Is Writing Your Own Will a Good Idea?
File cabinet drawer
Here's How to Settle a Revocable Trust After the Trustmaker Dies
Group of men and women seated in front of desk with copies of a will
How and When You'll Know If You've Been Named in a Will
A parent and adult child look at a laptop.
How To Talk to Your Parents About Financial Woes
Image shows an elderly, heterosexual couple signing a document. Text reads: "Revocable living trust benefits: avoid the court-supervised probate process; maintain your privacy; prepare for mental disability"
What Are the Benefits of a Revocable Living Trust vs. a Will?

More in Financial Planning:

Page Sources

  1. The New York Community Trust. “Consequences of Dying Without a Will in New York State.”

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Estate Tax."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. “Instructions for Form 706,” Pages 10-11.