What is estate planning?

Estate planning is a process to decide who will get your property and how you would like it transferred after your death. This process can also involve designating a guardian for children or a representative to make medical and financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated.

Why do I want to avoid probate?

Probate is an official court process in which the estate of the decedent is divided according to a will, if one exists, or state succession laws, if no will exists. It is probably a lengthy process (approximately 9-14 months) and involves a lot of paperwork, money, and time. In addition, the documents filed for a probate proceeding will go to public record, and most people may wish to avoid public scrutiny of their financial situation.

What is the difference between a living trust and a will?

A will is a legal document that becomes effective upon your death and details how you want your property distributed. All property left in a will must go through probate court. A living trust, on the other hand, is in effect while you’re still living; you transfer property into the trust, yet you still have control of the trust and can make changes or additions`. Property distributed via a living trust is generally not subject to probate.

What are some other options besides wills and trusts?

There are several alternatives to wills, and many people choose to have a combination of estate planning devices, such as a living trust, a “Payable on Delivery” (POD) bank account, in which funds automatically transfer to another in the case of death, or a “back-up” will. The resources in this guide provide information on these and other estate-planning tools.

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