estate planning

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Estate planning is the process by which an individual or family arranges the transfer of assets in anticipation of death. An estate plan aims to preserve the maximum amount of wealth possible for the intended beneficiaries and flexibility for the individual prior to death. A major concern for drafters of estate plans is federal and state tax law.

An estate is the total property (real and personal) owned by an individual prior to distribution through a trust or will. For example; cars, homes, land, household items, and bank accounts. Estate planning distributes the real and personal property to an individual's heirs.

Wills and trusts are common ways in which individuals protect and transfer their wealth. (See Estates and Trusts). Trusts, unlike wills, have the benefit of avoiding probate, a lengthy and costly legal process that oversees the transfer of assets. Sometimes, though, it will be useful to make inter vivos gifts (gifts made while the donor is alive) in order to minimize taxes. The federal gift tax exempts certain levels of lifetime gifts. (See Estate Tax)

Federal Material

U.S. Constitution and Federal Statutes
Federal Agency Regulations
Federal Judicial Decisions
  • U.S. Supreme Court:
    • Recent Estate Planning Decisions 

State Material

State Statutes
  • Uniform Laws:
    • Uniform Probate Code
    • Uniform Trust Code
    • Fiduciary Income and Principal Act
  • State Statutes Dealing with:
    • Probate
    • Property
    • Taxation
Key Internet Sources
  • Internal Revenue Service
  • National Association of Financial and Estate Planning
  • National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys
  • American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
Illustrative Cases

[Last updated in December of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team