Estate Planning FAQs
What is estate planning? What is an estate?
Estate planning is the somewhat archaic term lawyers and courts use for the decisions you can make in advance regarding all of the property and legal rights you have prior to your death. Everyone has an “estate” that is left behind upon one’s passing. What makes up that estate is unique to everyone, but it may include personal property, real estate, and various other legal rights. The law permits you to do many things to decide how your estate will be distributed.
What is probate?
Probate is the court-supervised process of collecting and organizing all of the property resolving all the different interests in an estate. Think of it as a clearing of all your accounts. When someone passes away they leave behind property, but they also leave behind some debts, including, of course, taxes. The law provides an order of outstanding debts to be paid before property passes to someone’s heirs. Additionally, an individual needs to appointed as the executor of the estate—the person who is responsible for managing the individual probate process.
Do I need a Will?
Not necessarily, but your heirs probably want you to have a will. If you pass away without a will, the law provides for default rules for how your estate will be distributed to your heirs. (Or, if you have none, then your estate may end up going to your state treasury!) These default rules are referred to as “intestacy” or “intestate succession.” The legislature made a number of best-guesses as to how you would want your property distributed. However, even if you’re ok with the legislature’s decisions, a valid will ensures that your family will be able to pass your estate through probate more easily, and of course, according to your wishes.
Can I handwrite my will?
Absolutely! In fact, if you don’t have a will at all, we recommend that you hand-write some of your desires right away. You and your family are better off having some indication of your wishes about how you want your property distributed than none at all. And the law even provides that a handwritten will may be valid.
Can I use a will form purchased online or in a store?
Sure. A simple will form is easy, but just like you wouldn’t completely replace visiting your doctor with webMD or over-the-counter medicine, a will form doesn’t replace the counsel a lawyer can provide. A lawyer can help you take care of your loved ones, avoid unnecessary taxes, and ensure that a court will consider your will to be a valid one.