Proper planning is the key to peace of mind.
Every person’s situation is unique. What is important is that your estate planning attorney understands your family situation (who gets along and who doesn’t, who is most capable of managing and settling your estate, who will be most fair, and so forth), your assets (how they are titled, whether you have named beneficiaries on your accounts, etc), and your wishes. With this information, an experienced estate planning attorney can explain your options for settling your estate - and there are many options. The ideas you hear in the media, or from your neighbor, or at the bar are not necessarily the best ideas for settling your estate. An estate planning attorney can design a plan with your unique family situation in mind. That plan may include preparation of documents (typically, Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Directives), but also recommendations about how you should own your assets and which assets should have beneficiary designations, and, possibly, which should not. A well-constructed plan will allow your wishes to be realized.
Most estate plans include preparation of a Will. A Will allows you to decide whom will receive your assets when you die, who will be in charge to settle and distribute your estate, whether you have guardians named for your minor children, and other matters. If you do not have a Will when you die, state law determines how your property will be distributed. Those laws are called the Laws of Intestate Succession and can be found here.*
For most people, having a Will means peace of mind - a sense that one’s affairs are in order. A Will, combined with good estate planning advice regarding the titling of your assets and whether you should have any beneficiary designations or jointly owned assets, can mean the difference between your wishes being followed on your death - or not. This is one of the risks for persons who write their own Wills and do not seek legal advice about how to handle their assets. Special care must be taken for families with second marriages, disabled family members, and blended families, where the passing of assets can mean the difference between security of a surviving spouse and an inheritance for children. For parents of minor children, naming a guardian in a Will can bring peace of mind; likewise, naming a trustee to manage a child’s finances can keep funds out of court, but such planning must be coupled with properly crafted beneficiary designations on life insurance and retirement accounts so that funds pass into the trust and not into the child’s name. For persons with assets nearing or exceeding $3 million, planning to avoid estate taxes can be helpful in preserving assets for loved ones. The key is to have an experienced estate planning attorney prepare a plan that meets your needs.