According to a recent survey, fully half of American adults do not have a will or living trust.

A will explains how you want your property to be distributed after your passing. A living trust contains similar information, and can also help your loved ones avoid probate.

What happens if someone passes and never had a will or living trust? Legally, they have died intestate.

What Does Intestate Mean?
Investopedia defines intestate as “The act of dying without a legal will. Determining the distribution of the deceased's assets then becomes the responsibility of a probate court.”

In other words, dying without a will means you give the courts the responsibility of deciding who has a right to your estate, and how much each person will receive. They will appoint an executor (an administrator) for your estate; this executor will need to collect your assets, pay your debts and settle your estate. The courts would also decide who will become the guardians of your minor children,

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Legalese, eek! We know it can be daunting, but fear not, we’ll keep it as simple as possible. Here are the commonly misunderstood legal terms common in estate planning, and their plain-English explanations.

Advance Health Directive (AKA Living Will): This document expresses your wishes for health care, in case you become incapacitated later. For example, if you slip into a persistent vegetative state (indefinite coma), do you want to be artificially kept alive on life support? This and other questions are addressed in the advance health directive.

Agent: A person appointed to act on your behalf. Generally this is used in the context of a power of attorney – see below.

Alternate Beneficiary: The beneficiary/heir who is to inherit an asset if the originally listed beneficiary is unable to receive it.

Asset Protection: A subset of estate planning, which involves protecting yourself and your various assets from being seized by creditors or lawsuits. The wealthier you are, the more likely you’ll be targeted by lawsuits, and the more attention you should pay to asset protection.

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Probate is usually as easy – or as painful – as the deceased person’s estate is organized or disorganized. When a person shares a comprehensive last will and testament before they pass away, and shares information about their financial contacts and accounts, probate can be much streamlined for the surviving family.

What is it?

Probate is the legal process of finding, valuing, and distributing the deceased’s property. It also entails settling any remaining debt. Having a last will makes this process easier as the decedent’s wishes are spelled out, therefore, the court would distribute their assets in accordance with their last will and testament. Where there is no will, the estate of the deceased is then decided solely as provided by the statutes in that state. This is called intestate. Regardless of whether the decedent has a last will or not, all estates must go through the probate process. In most states, this is handled at the county level. The probate process also formally appoints an executor or personal

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Living trusts are increasingly popular, largely because they help heirs avoid the expensive and time-consuming probate process. For estate planning purposes, they are generally combined with a pour-over will, and this combination is used as an alternative to a standalone last will document.

What Is the Process When a Traditional Last Will Is Used?

A last will document (or last will and testament) serves a very specific purpose: legally declaring what you want done with your belongings (and your remains) after you die. The principal (the person whose estate is in question) must include several important details in their will, particularly naming an executor for their estate – a person responsible for seeing to it that all of their wishes are implemented.

The executor files for probate in court, publicly declaring all of the deceased’s (the principal’s) assets and to whom they will be going. Probate is expensive, time-consuming and all of the estate’s details go onto public record (read more here on What Is Probate?).

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Planning for medical possibilities goes far beyond merely buying health insurance. Your plan may include making sure you are well protected today, with health, life and disability insurance. It may also include preparing for later, with a will and estate plan. As part of your estate planning, it’s also important to make decisions in regards to your future health care.

You have likely heard different terms to describe having your medical needs met when too sick to care for yourself. Depending on the state you are in, the documents may have different names and requirements. Essentially, in order to manage your health care once you can no longer speak for yourself, your need two types of documents: a living will (AKA advance health directive) and a medical power of attorney.

Living Will/Advance Health Directive

A living will is a set of detailed instructions describing how you wish to have your health care managed in dire situations. Also known as

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If you think taxes are bad while you’re alive, just wait until you die – your greedy cousin-in-law twice-removed isn’t the only one who will claw for a share. Uncle Sam expects to be well paid when you die, and he will be, unless you actively plan your estate so that your loved ones are taken care of instead.

1. Estate Taxes vs. Probate Expenses vs. Final Income Taxes

When you die, typically you owe several sets of taxes. The first is simple enough: you (or rather your estate) must pay normal income taxes on the money you earned the year you died. This is unavoidable, so don’t sweat it, and the news gets better from here.

Probate expenses are only due if your estate goes into probate. And as we learned in What’s the Difference Between a Will and a Living Trust?, if you use a living trust and pourover will (instead of a normal last will), your children

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