In this second blog post in our series on basic questions about estate planning, we are going to focus on one of the most basic ideas around. Namely, we are going to look at exactly what we mean when we talk about an “estate.” Like many of the concepts we will cover in this series, the idea of estates may not be exactly what you believe it to be. To help explain this concept of a little more detail, let’s take a look at some key issues.
Basic Question 4. What is an estate?
The first thing you need to know about estates is that everyone has them. Sometimes, people use the word “estate” to refer to a large home or large piece of property. While this definition is useful, it is not what we are talking about when we refer to estate planning.
When your lawyer talks about an estate, what he or she is talking about is the property and legal interests you leave behind after you die. Legally, all of the things you leave behind after death are lumped together into a body we call an estate. Additionally, should you become incapacitated and be unable to make decisions or manage your affairs, you also leave behind an estate.
Basic Question 5. What is estate planning?
Since everyone will leave behind an estate, either after they die or after they become incapacitated, estate planning is simply making choices about what you want to happen to your estate. As long as you are a mentally capable adult, the law recognizes your ability to make certain types of decisions that will affect your estate. Even though you will no longer be around to control your estate should you die or become incapacitated, the choices you make as part of your estate plan will allow you to exert control over various issues.
For example, one of the more basic issues that all estate plans address is the question of inheritance. Though you will not be around to distribute your property after you die, you can create an estate plan that will allow you to make whatever inheritance choices you see fit.
Basic Question 6. How can I make an estate plan?
The process of creating an estate plan is one that can differ significantly from person to person. Depending on the kind of estate you believe you will leave behind, and the kinds of issues you want to address, the legal tools you create in your plan might be very different than someone else might create in theirs. However, regardless of the choices you want to make, you have to make sure that you make them in a legally recognized manner.