NOTE: This article discusses wills and estate plans under American law only. Portions of the American law of estate planning come from English common law, so US estate law has some similarities to estate planning law in the UK. But there are also significant differences between law in the two countries.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a “will” is: “A document by which a person directs his or her estate to be distributed upon death.”
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “estate planning” as: “The preparation for the distribution and management of a person’s estate at death through the use of wills, trusts, insurance policies, and other arrangements, esp. to reduce administration costs and transfer-tax liability.”
A will is one part of an estate plan, but it is not the whole. A well-crafted estate plan often includes a will, but the plan usually includes other devices.
A will only directs how your property will be distributed after you die. But many estate plans need more than a will. Every person’s needs are different; because of this, every estate plan must be different.
Many estate plans not only provide for how property will be distributed after you die; the plans also distribute property within your lifetime. For example, your estate plan might transfer property into a trust. The trust documents can say that while you are alive, you will have access to, and control over, all the property in the trust. But, when you die, the property is the trust will go to others. This type of plan has an advantage, because, if all of your property is in a trust, your heirs may not have to go to court to transfer the property into their names. (If all you have is a will, your heirs will likely have to go to court to transfer property into their names.)
Frequently, an estate plan also includes what’s called an advance directive. An advance directive is a document, where you name who will be allowed to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated. An estate plan may also include a power of attorney, where you name who will have control over your property if you become incapacitated.
There are many other devices that can be included in an estate plan. The topic of estate planning is extremely broad, and cannot be covered in an article of this length. If you would like an estate plan that is best for you, consult an experienced estate planning attorney.
Article written and contributed by : Kyle Persaud, the founder of Persaud Law Office, a US based law firm located in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Persaud Law Office directly