What Is the Difference between a Will & Estate Planning?

Signing papers

When it comes to considering what happens to our property when we pass away, most of us know that we should be thinking about our wills and estate plans – but what is the difference between a will and an estate plan, anyway?

The question at hand here is a bit misleading, but only because a will isn’t necessarily distinct from an estate plan. In fact, in many cases, a will is an important part of an overall estate plan. Wills are important tools for figuring out what happens to your property or who should take care of your minor children when you pass away, but the scope of estate planning itself has much broader applications.

What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning isn’t only about what happens to your property when you pass away. Estate planning encompasses many things, including retirement planning, incapacity planning, and – of course – postmortem planning. As a consequence, estate planning can be as complex or simple as you need it to be.

When people talk about “building an estate plan,” what they’re really referring to is establishing any of a number of legal documents that address the aforementioned issues. These documents can include powers of attorney, advanced medical care directives, trusts, and wills. When you build an estate plan, ideally, you’ll want to ensure that your affairs are in order during times when you’ll be unable to handle them on your own.

What Is a Will?

As mentioned before, a will is often part of an estate plan. That said, a will can function on its own. Its most important purpose is to keep your estate from undergoing intestate succession. This is a legal process where the state’s laws determine who your legal heirs are and how much of your estate they will receive. Intestate succession can be avoided, however, by ensuring you have a valid will that can be easily found when you die.

Of course, your will also directs the distribution of your estate according to your instructions. That means those you name in your will should receive the inheritance you assign to them. Provided there is no legal contest to your will, there is little else that can affect this process. The same goes for assigning the guardianship of your minor children to legal guardians you trust.

How Does a Will Fit into an Estate Plan?

A will can be a very important component of an estate plan because it can “catch” property that would otherwise go through intestate succession.

If it helps, think of a will as a backup plan. For example, a comprehensive estate plan involves funding one’s assets and property into a trust for safekeeping. Ideally this property transfers to the trust’s beneficiaries without a problem, but if property was somehow forgotten or not completely assigned to the trust, it can remain in someone’s personal estate and must undergo probate.

Without a valid will, that property would be subject to intestate succession. With a will that complements your trust, however, you can rest assured that any “hiccups” involving your trust can be settled through probate.

Do You Need Help with Estate Planning?

If you’re thinking about building an estate plan, our attorneys at Lackey | McDonald, PLLC are ready to assist you. We can help you address any questions or concerns you have with this process as we work toward helping you make a plan that’s as simple or complex as you need it to be.

For more information, contact Lackey | McDonald, PLLC online now.

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