An estate is the real and/or personal property a person possesses at death. The practice area of estate planning law involves the drafting of living wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other documents to facilitate the transfer and management of property after death.

When estates aren’t managed and someone dies without a will, their possessions will distributed to their next of kin. By not making a will or otherwise making estate plans, the individual gives up control of their estate and has no say in how the property is divided.

Estate Planning Law: Terms to Know

There are key terms to know that help to understand estate planning law, including the following:

  • Intestate: Having not made a valid will before death; not disposing of property 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?

Depending on the complexity of the estate, the health of the individual, and other factors, practically everyone may need the services of an estate planning lawyer at some point. 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. After having children, some families decide to create trusts, which is a document similar to a will, but also helps manage property before death. Some common reasons for hiring an estate planning lawyer include the need to create:

  • Trusts: Legal/fiduciary arrangement in which one party holds legal title to another’s property, as a trustee, and manages the property for them on their behalf; 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.
  • An Overall Estate Plan: 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.