Is the difference between a will and living will confusing to you? Have you ever wondered if you need “estate planning for dummies” because you aren’t clear on legal terms? If so, you’re not alone. According to some figures, only about 39% of Americans have an estate plan in place, meaning that upwards of 60% do not. This certainly conflicts with the estimated 95% of Americans who want control of the distribution of their assets after death.

If you need to develop your estate plan, you don’t need estate planning for dummies. What you will need, however, is a good estate planning attorney and a clear idea of what arrangements you would like to make. Here are some estate planning basics to get you started:

  1. Hire an estate planning lawyer. Also known as probate lawyers, these attorneys help to plan estates by developing wills, naming power of attorney, and drawing up other necessary documents to help with these difficult life decisions. Planning ahead with an attorney can also help reduce the costs of asset distribution, taxes, and the probate process, which can include distributing property or appealing an irrelevant will or testament.
  2. Develop a will. A will is a document which designates a person or persons to inherit property, and it can also name a future guardian for your children. In the event of your death, a will determines, legally, who owns what — and minimizes any family disputes.
  3. Determine who is in charge before or when you pass. Determining who has power of attorney is one way to put someone close to you in charge of making financial decisions. Also, developing a living will, which can include health care decisions, will allow you designate someone to make your medical choices. These acts can include when to remove a person from life support, for instance.
  4. Choose life insurance. If you don’t already have a life insurance policy, now is a great time to consider one. Life insurance covers the potential cost of living for your beneficiaries after your death, and it can provide funeral expenses, too.
  5. Get your other forms in order. Your probate attorney can explain any other steps to the estate planning process that may pertain to you when you meet with him or her. An attorney can also give you information on estate taxes, children’s property, and any funeral expenses that your life insurance won’t cover.

All estate planning processes are different, and advice pertaining to your situation may not be covered online. If you are looking to develop a plan for your future and the estate planning for dummies articles you find on the internet just don’t cover it, be sure to sit down with an estate attorney to choose the best solutions for you and your family.

Have questions? Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible and leave a comment below.

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Carrie Russom Quraishi, JD, CAPP
Carrie provides personalized wealth management, tax and estate planning services to clients in AR, TX & TN.