Estate Planning vs. Will

A Will is an estate planning document that dictates how you want your assets to be distributed and your children cared for when you die. If you die without a Will, the state will decide how your assets Will be distributed and who Will care for your children. Furthermore, those you leave behind may have to spend a lot more time, money, and effort to settle your affairs after you are gone.

Estate planning is the comprehensive process of organizing how your personal and financial affairs will be managed while you are alive and well, while you are alive but incapacitated, and at your death. Having a comprehensive estate plan, as opposed to simply having a Will, means that you and your attorney must sit down and look at many aspects of your personal and familial life and your overall wealth.

While drafting an effective Will is important, it is only one aspect of the estate planning process. At a very minimum, a basic estate plan should consist of your Will, as well as, a Power of Attorney for Health Care, a Power of Attorney for Finances, and in some cases, one or more Trusts.

What Assets Does a Will Cover?

A Will covers assets that are held in your name at the time of your death. This includes assets such as boats, cars, jewelry, furniture, and real estate.

However, a Will does not cover assets such as IRAs, other retirement plans, and life insurance policies. These types of assets are covered by beneficiary designations and other estate planning documents.

A Will also does not cover jointly held property. Many people own assets such as their homes and bank accounts jointly with their spouses. Jointly held assets pass by operation of law to the surviving joint partner, not by Will.

Lifetime Planning

For example, you may want to make charitable gifts during your lifetime, set up an annual gifting program for your children or grandchildren, provide for a loved one with special needs, or protect an adult child from creditors, a divorcing spouse, or their own financial immaturity. This type of planning will typically take place outside your Will and with other important estate planning documents, such as a Living Trust.

Incapacity Planning

A Will does not allow you to plan for possible periods of incapacity. So, it is critical that while you still have the capacity, you consider how your affairs will be managed if you become incapacitated due to injury or illness. Using other estate planning documents, such as Durable Powers of Attorney for Finances and Healthcare, you can designate individuals who you trust to make important decisions on your behalf. If you don't plan for possible periods of incapacity, you will be putting your loved ones in the difficult position of having to commence a court proceeding to have a judge appoint someone to make important decisions for you.

The Importance of Comprehensive Estate Planning

Estate planning deals with many areas of law, and you and your attorney will have to touch on issues involving probate, taxes, and in many cases asset protection as well. You may even have some family law issues if you are in a second marriage and have a blended family, or because you don't trust your child's new spouse.

Simply having a Will in place is no substitute for comprehensive estate planning, as a Will is only effective for addressing certain estate planning needs, and only takes effect upon your death. A comprehensive estate plan, however, will allow you to strategically address your family dynamics, protect your assets (both while you are alive and after you pass away), and achieve whatever specific estate planning goals you may have.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you develop an estate plan that will dictate how these dynamics will be managed during your lifetime, when you are incapacitated, and at your death. For advice on how you can use a Will along with other estate planning documents to address all of your estate planning needs, contact a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney near you.