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

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The 6 Best Online Will Makers of 2022
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Codicil
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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
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What to Know About Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate
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A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Your Own Will
Information Needed to Make a Living Trust
Revocable Living Trust
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What Happens to Your Parent's Finances When They Die?
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What Is the Federal Estate Tax?
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Irrevocable Trust
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Trustee
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Durable Power of Attorney
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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
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Pour-Over Will
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Do You Need a Revocable Living Trust or Only a Will?
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Probate Judge
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The Pros and Cons of Using TOD Accounts to Avoid Probate
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Trust Fund Options for Paying Adult Beneficiaries Their Inheritances
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Tenants by the Entirety: Does Your State Recognize This Ownership?
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What Happens When a Beneficiary Predeceases the Person Making the Will?
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How Filial Responsibility Impacts Your Parents' Medical Bills
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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
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Why You or a Loved One Need to Hire an Elder Law Attorney
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Enhanced Life Estate Deed
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Life Estate
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A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Probate Records Online
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How Long Will Probate Take?
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Learn What a Successor Trustee Does With Your Trust After You Die
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Joint and POD Accounts Avoid Probate But Aren't Foolproof
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Learn the Differences Between Revocable and Irrevocable Living Trusts
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What Is a Pet Trust?
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Learn the Difference Between Per Stirpes and Per Capita Distributions.
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How Will Probate Affect Your Tenants-in-Common Property?
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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?
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What Is Contesting a Will?
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Here’s How To Avoid Costly, Time-Consuming Probate
A couple plans their wills.
Types of Wills
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Ancilliary Probrate
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What Is an Heir?
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How To Find a Deceased Person's Will
POWER OF ATTORNEY
What Are the Responsibilities of a Power of Attorney After a Death?
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Grantor Trust
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Rights You Might Have As Someone's Heir-at-Law
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Credit Shelter Trust
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Types of Property Ownership
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What Is Springing Power of Attorney?
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Paying Too Much for Property Taxes? Your Age Can Make a Difference.
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How to Create an Asset Protection Plan to Shield From Creditors
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Avoid Probate With a Payable on Death (POD) Account
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Is Writing Your Own Will a Good Idea?
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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.