What is the Difference Between Writing a Will and Estate Planning?

When people or news articles tell you that you should write a will or build an estate plan, your instinctive response is usually, “I’m too young to die.” Once the grim reaper starts tormenting you with birthday greetings from the AARP, however, you might decide to face the music and set up an estate plan. One of the first things that the estate planning lawyer tells you is that estate planning is about planning for life, not just planning for death. Estate planning is not exactly the same thing as retirement planning, but they overlap substantially; it is about building a financial plan that will last for the rest of your life and beyond. The main goal of estate planning is to be able to cover your own expenses in your old age, and if there is anything left for your family to inherit at the end, even better. The hardest part of estate planning is getting started, so a Whittier estate planning lawyer can help you get unstuck.

What a Will Can Accomplish and What it Cannot

Everyone should write a will. It does not matter how young you are and how little property you own; it will make it less stressful for your family to cope with the administrative matters after you die. When someone dies, the person’s estate goes through probate court. During probate, the court identifies and collects the deceased person’s assets, notifies beneficiaries that the estate is open for probate, gives creditors a chance to seek repayment of debts, files a tax return on behalf of the estate, and finally distributes the decedent’s assets to the beneficiaries. Your will contains several important pieces of information:

  • Who should act as personal representative of your estate
  • Which assets you own
  • Who should inherit which assets
  • Who should not inherit anything

If you do not decide this in your will, the court will decide according to the rules of intestate succession. In practice, this means that your closest relatives will inherit your property.

There is More to Estate Planning Than Simply a Will

Writing a will is often the first step in estate planning. A rudimentary estate plan must also include plans for your medical and financial care in the event that you suffer ill health. These are some items you may need:

  • Springing power of attorney, giving a trusted person the authority to make financial transactions on your behalf if you become severely ill
  • Healthcare power of attorney, giving a trusted person the authority to make decisions about your healthcare if you are too ill to speak for yourself
  • Long-term care insurance, which pays for home health aide services or residency in an assisted living facility

After that, you are ready for the fun part, which is where you implement strategies to keep assets out of probate, so that the beneficiaries can receive them sooner and with less expense.

Contact the Law Offices of Omar Gastelum About Establishing an Estate Plan

A family law attorney can help you set up a first draft of an estate plan, which you can modify when you are older and wealthier.  Contact the Law Offices of Omar Gastelum and Associates APLC in Whittier, California to set up a consultation.

Your will, which lists your assets and instructions for their distribution, is only one part of your estate plan; you should also plan for your medical and financial care in your old age.