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An estate is a real and/or personal property a person possesses at death. Estate planning is the process by which an individual or family arranges the transfer of assets in anticipation of 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).

An estate plan aims to preserve the maximum amount of wealth possible for the intended beneficiaries and flexibility for the individual prior to death. Since everyone eventually will die, often with a house or other possessions, estate planning is in virtually everyone's best interests.A major concern for drafters of estate plans is federal and state tax law.

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

1.Intestate: Having not made a valid will before death; not disposed of by a valid will.

2.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.

3.Probate: The legal process of transferring of property upon a person's death, particularly in the absence of a will.

4.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.

5.Inheritance: The act of inheriting, as the acquisition of real or personal property under the laws of intestacy or sometimes by a will.

An estate is a total property, real and personal, owned by an individual prior to distribution through a trust or will. Real property is real estate and personal property includes everything else, for example, cars, household items, and bank accounts.

Estate planning distributes the real and personal property to an individual's heirs.

Wills and trusts are common ways in which individuals dispose of their wealth. (See Estates and Trusts). Trusts, unlike wills, have the benefit of avoiding probate, a lengthy and costly legal process that oversees the transfer of assets.