Wills, Probates, & Estates
Wills: Wills are the most common way for people to state their preferences about how their estates should be handled after their deaths. Many people use their wills to express their deepest sentiments toward their loved ones. A well-written will eases the transition for survivors by transferring property quickly and avoiding many tax burdens. Despite these advantages, many estimates figure that at least seventy percent of Americans do not have valid wills. While it is difficult to contemplate mortality, many people find that great peace of mind results from putting their affairs in order.
Wills vary from extremely simple single-page documents to elaborate volumes, depending on the estate size and preferences of the person making the will (the "testator"). Wills describe the estate, the people who will receive specific property (the "devisees"), and even special instructions about care of minor children, gifts to charity, and formation of posthumous trusts. Many people choose to disinherit people who might usually be expected to receive property. For all these examples, the testator must follow the legal rules for wills in order to make the document effective.
Probate: The legal process of transferring of property upon a person's death is covered under "Probate Law." Although probate customs and laws have changed over time, the purpose has remained much the same: people formalize their intentions as to the transfer of their property at the time of their death (typically in a will), their property is collected, certain debts are paid from the estate, and the property is distributed.
Estate: Estate Planning is more than just a simple Will. It also typically protects your wealth and assets by minimizing potential taxes and fees, sets up contingency planning to make sure your wishes regarding health care treatment are followed, manages and administers your estate and appropriately distributes your assets to your intended heirs.
On the financial side, a good estate plan coordinates what would happen with your home, your investments, your business, your life insurance, your employee benefits-such as a 401(k) plan or Investment Retirement Account (IRA)-and other property in the event you became disabled, incompetent or if you die.
On the personal side, a good estate plan includes directions to carry out your wishes regarding health care matters, so that if you ever are unable to give the directions yourself, someone you select would do that for you, and know when you would want them to authorize heroic measures and when you would prefer that life sustaining machines be shut down (pull the plug). *
* Definition courtesy of http://statelawyers.com/