Friday, April 9, 2010

What Is An Estate?

As an estate planning attorney, the term "estate" has a specific meaning to me.  Yet I am constantly reminded that the term "estate" often means something else to others.  For example, prospective clients often say to me "I don't need estate planning, I only need a Will". 

What does the word "estate" mean to you?  I used to picture a mansion in the English countryside surrounded by a large well manicured lawn behind an iron gate and brick walls.  Law school changed that meaning for me. 

Your estate is simply what you own in your own name or jointly with others.  So your estate may include a house, car, bank accounts and investment accounts like mutual funds or other stocks and bonds.  Your retirement plan, such as an IRA or 401k is part of your estate.  The value of your insurance policy is part of your estate even though someone else is getting the money.  Other estate assets are debts owed to you and the value of any business you may own.  Your estate even includes your "stuff" like the contents of your home.

So we all have an "estate".  You can plan ahead to decide what should happen to your estate should you die or become incapacitated.  There is a term for planning ahead like that, wait ... it is on the tip of my tongue ... Estate Planning!