Anyone who owns property--a home, a car, a bank account, investments, business interests, a retirement plan account, collectibles, personal belongings, etc.--needs an estate plan. An estate plan allows you to direct how and to whom your property will be distributed after your death. If you have no estate plan at all, your property could be distributed according to your state's intestacy laws without regard to family needs or your desires.

Estate planning is an ongoing process. For a young, single person, an estate plan may consist of simply a Will. A couple just starting out might have Wills and own a modest home and bank accounts in their joint names. When children arrive, whom to name as the children's guardian and how to provide for them and your spouse in the event of unexpected death or incapacity become estate planning concerns. And, once an individual starts to realize his or her financial goals, asset preservation and how to avoid estate taxes become important factors in estate planning.

Many people who carefully plan for income taxes don't give any thought to estate taxes. They assume that estate taxes, unlike income taxes, affect only people with large estates. However, with so many dual-income families and the high value of real estate in many areas of the country, people who consider themselves of moderate means may have estates that will be subject to federal estate tax at their deaths.


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