Estate Planning is a process involving the counsel of a lawyer who is familiar with your goals and concerns, your assets and how they are owned, and your family structure. It can involve the services of other professionals, such as your accountant, financial planner, life insurance advisor, or broker.
Estate Planning covers the transfer of property at death as well as a variety of other personal matters and may or may not involve tax planning. The core document most often associated with this process is the will.
If you die intestate (without a will), your state's laws of descent and distribution will determine who receives your property by default. These laws vary from state to state, but typically distribution would be to the spouse and children, or if none, to other family members. The state's plan reflects the legislature's guess as to how most people would dispose of their estate and builds in protections for beneficiaries, particularly minor children. That plan may or may not reflect your actual wishes, and some of the built-in protections may not be necessary in a harmonious family setting. A will allows you to alter the state's default plan to suit your personal preferences.
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Michael L. Cahill is an attorney and certified public accountant providing estate planning, probate and tax services in the St. Petersburg, Seminole, Largo, Clearwater and Florida gulf beach communities.