Estate Planning 101

What Is an Estate?

No matter how modest, everything you own is considered your estate. Taking stock of what you own is the first step in understanding how best to protect it. To start your estate plan:

  • List the value of your home and other real estate along with cars, jewelry, artwork, and other physical assets.
  • Gather recent statements from your bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts.
  • Include the location and contents of any safety deposit boxes or safes.
  • Make a list of all insurance policies, noting their cash values and death benefits.
  • A person’s estate is basically the net worth of their belongings, minus any liabilities he or she may have, such as unpaid bills and loans.

Sunmark Handy Handbook

Regardless of an estate’s size, it is important to plan how those possessions are divvied up at the end of someone’s life.

What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is the way a person can choose what happens to their assets. This can be done by the individual or a family member, and it’s the easiest, surest way to make sure that possessions go where intended.
Often, we think of estate planning as synonymous with wills; however, a will is only part of an overall estate planning strategy, one that will ideally include a will, a living will, a power of attorney, and trusts.

Why Estate Planning Matters.

Estate planning allows a person to decide how their assets are inherited. Estate planning also provides an opportunity for an individual to make decisions about their own health, future medical care, and funeral arrangements while they are still capable.
This can help ensure that their wishes are followed even if they become incapacitated. It can also make some of these decisions easier for family members that otherwise may be left to make choices without a road map. Coping with a loved one’s passing is already difficult enough; the last thing you want is to have family members squabbling over entitlements.
Considering people can die at any age, there is no ideal age at which estate planning should be done. Anyone with financial assets should consider how they want them handled in the event of their passing.


Before you meet with an estate planning attorney you should be able to answer these important questions about how to settle your affairs:

  • Who should inherit your assets, and in what proportions?
  • Who should manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated?
  • Who should be responsible for distributing your assets?

When you’re ready, meet with an estate planning attorney to draft your important legal documents.
What you should do now:

  • If you set up a trust, fund it promptly. If you don’t, the agreement won’t take effect, and your assets may not pass to your beneficiaries as you intended.
  • Review and update the beneficiaries on all of your investment accounts, if needed.
  • Make sure that all assets that you want included in the trust are retitled to reflect this ownership change, and that you keep copies of the relevant documents.
  • Once your attorney has created your plan, call our Trust and Estate Specialists at 904-394-3904 for answers about asset titling and beneficiary designations on your Bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts.

Review and update your documents and accounts as your situation changes or as current laws change.