Frequently Asked Questions
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Not at all! Everyone that owns property has an estate and some estate plans consist of only a simple will and some accompanying documents. By planning for the disposition of one's estate at death, many goals can be achieved that minimize or eliminate the court system from being involved in the disposition process, which many times can be time-consuming and expensive.
Estate planning can vary widely among clients for various reasons but a typical estate plan manages the disposition of the property of an estate upon the occurrence of certain events, usually, a death. Planning in advance allows for the property owner to direct how assets are managed after death, whether that is to distribute property directly to heirs, in a trust, or to a charitable organization, to name a few.
Generally, estate planning seeks to achieve various goals of the client, some of which are the following:
- Peace of mind
- Naming a guardian or guardians of any minor children
- Asset management and protection beyond the death of the property owner
- Minimization of estate administration expenses at death
- Ownership transition of a closely-held business
- Planning for incapacity
Estate plans vary widely depending on the needs and wants of the client; however, common estate plans may contain the following documents:
- Revocable Trust
- Durable Power of Attorney
- Advance Health Care Directive
- Various additional documents that may, for example, transfer ownership of property (real estate or other property) currently held individually to a designated person or persons at death (transfer-on-death), immediately to a trust, or from a single owner to joint ownership.
A will is a document by which a person directs how their estate is to be disposed of at death and names a personal representative to administer the estate (in some states, the personal representative may be called an executor). Some wills are considered "pour-over" wills, which are designed to distribute property in one's estate to a trust at death. The benefit of this type of will is that the detail and type of property owned at death is not listed in the will and therefore maintain privacy when if the will must be submitted to a court.
Probate is a judicial process that involves the settling of the estate of a deceased individual. If the individual died with a will, the probate process will validate the will, and the estate will be administered according to the terms of the will. If the individual died without a will, they have died intestate, and the probate process will consist of the administration of the estate according to the state's laws of intestacy.
Many states, including Wyoming, provide for a simplified probate process if a person dies holding minimal assets (the amount of assets that one can hold and still be eligible for simplified probate is statutory and varies by state), sometimes called "summary probate".