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What is Estate Planning Law?

An estate is the real and/or personal property a person possesses at death. Estate planning law involves the drafting of living wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and general estate management (when estates are not managed and someone dies without a will, his or her possessions go into probate court). Since everyone eventually will die, often with a house or other possessions, estate planning is in virtually everyone's best interests. Some estate-related procedures can be completed without an attorney (FindLaw offers state-specific, do-it-yourself, estate planning packages), depending on their complexity.

But sometimes your estate management is best handled by an experienced estate planning attorney, who can tailor your plan to your particular needs. Our Estate Planning section also provides state-specific links to living will and advance directive forms.

Terms to Know

  • Intestate: Having not made a valid will before death; not disposed of by a valid will.
  • Advance Directive: A document (as a living will or durable power of attorney) in which a person expresses his or her wishes regarding medical treatment in the event of incapacitation.
  • Probate: The legal process of transferring of property upon a person's death, particularly in the absence of a will.
  • Real Property: Property consisting of land, buildings, crops, or other resources still attached to or within the land or improvements; or fixtures permanently attached to the land or a structure on it.
  • Inheritance: The act of inheriting, as the acquisition of real or personal property under the laws of intestacy or sometimes by a will.

Do You Need an Estate Planning Lawyer?

Virtually everyone may need the services of an estate planning lawyer at some point, depending on the complexity of the estate, the health of the individual, and other factors. Sometimes individuals will work with a lawyer on behalf of a relative or loved one who is no longer able to manage their own affairs. Some younger families opt to create trusts upon having children, which is similar to a will but also helps manage property before death. Some common reasons for hiring an estate planning lawyer include:

  • Trusts: Legal/fiduciary arrangement in which one party holds legal title to another's property; similar to a will, but dictates how assets are to be transferred or used during life (for instance, children may obtain certain assets prior to their parents' death).
  • Wills: Legal document specifying how an individual's property and affairs are to be transferred and managed after death.
  • Living Wills: Legal document outlining medical and end-of-life preferences in the event that you are unable to communicate these wishes (see also Power of Attorney for Healthcare and Living Wills).
  • Planning an Estate: Estate planning attorneys often work with clients in a more comprehensive way, by assessing an individual's estate, asking about preferences and life goals, and advising on the client's options.

Related Practice Areas

See FindLaw's comprehensive directory of estate planning lawyers to find one near you.

Next Steps
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