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Estate Planning Basics

You have probably accomplished a great deal with your life. Over the years you have worked, planned and saved. Perhaps you have even made some sacrifices to achieve your current level of success. It's a sure bet that you will want to pass along your accumulated assets rather than hand them over for court costs, taxes or attorney fees.

Estate planning is the relatively simple process by which you prepare legal documents outlining your wishes for your estate upon your death. It can be difficult to plan for the end of your life, but this planning is necessary to protect your family and your assets.

What is your estate?

Your estate refers to your property, those things you own, including your total assets and liabilities. Your property includes your home, car, accounts (i.e. bank, retirement, and brokerage), jewelry, insurance policies and so forth.

The language of estate planning

It is understandable that the idea of planning for your family after die can be a little frightening. Familiarity with the terms used in estate planning will help you begin to develop some comfort with the process.

Estate: Refers to your property or those things that you own.

Property: Includes two categories, real (as in real estate/your home(s) and personal, which includes everything else such as stocks, bank accounts, car(s), jewelry, and so forth.

Intestate: Is a pre, or non-planning state. Dying intestate means that you have died without creating a will or trust to outline your desires for distribution of your estate.

Trust: Eliminates many of the financial risks in planning for the transfer of your estate from you to your heirs upon your death. Risks include taxes, probate, lawyers, creditors, judgments, etc. A trust can provide for the management of your estate if you become incapacitated as well reduce death taxes and assure a smooth transfer of your property according to your wishes. Trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. Talk with your tax or legal advisor about the benefits of each.

Probate: The process by which your personal property is legally transferred to your heirs upon your death. The probate process also identifies rightful heirs and determines how your assets will be distributed among them. Probate can be quite expensive (up to 10% of the net worth of your estate) but the expense can be avoided with estate planning.

Will: A written, legal document outlining your wishes for your real and personal property upon your death. You can also appoint a guardian for any minor children.

Beneficiaries: These are the people you assign to benefit with distribution of your real and personal property upon your death.

Your will can be an important tool of your estate plan. The goal of the estate plan is to allow you, rather than probate court and attorney, to maintain control of your assets. Planning allows you the opportunity to set forth clear directions and desires for your assets in the event of your death or physical or mental incapacitation.

Estate planning is a necessary and painless process. You will afford yourself peace of mind and you will smooth the road for your heirs in terms of property transfer upon your death.

Amy Nichols is a freelance writer and contributing author to http://www.howtowriteawill.com, a site providing free estate planning tips and information.

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