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Wills vs. Estate Planning: What’s the Difference?

07/01/2024 | Blog
Senior couple discussing estate plan and will with estate planning lawyer

There’s a common misconception that a will and estate plan are the same thing. The reality is that, although they’re related, they are different legal instruments. And they play different roles in helping you manage your financial affairs.

Below, our attorneys explain the differences between wills and estate plans. But for advice tailored to your unique situation, call our law offices to schedule a meeting.

What Is a Will?

A will is a legal document with instructions setting out what should happen to your assets when you die. You appoint a representative, or executor, to execute the terms of your will upon your death.

What is considered an asset? Assets can be any type of property, from real estate to bank accounts. If you own it, then it’s considered your property.

What is the purpose of a will? Put simple, a will reflects your wishes. It gives you peace of mind for the future – and provides reassurance for your family.

  • Without a will, you will die intestate. This means that a court will divide your estate according to California intestate succession laws. There’s a risk that your wishes will not be respected.
  • Intestate succession laws are complex. Your family may be left feeling confused and overwhelmed during what is already a difficult time.
  • The probate process for intestate estates can take a long time to resolve. Having a will may help to speed up the process.

What Is an Estate Plan?

An estate plan is a framework establishing how your assets should be managed before and after death. A plan usually includes a will, but it goes much further than just setting out how your assets should be divided.

Aside from your will, estate plans cover, for example:

  • Guardianships: An appointment of who should care for a minor child if the parents pass away.
  • Powers of attorney: Enables a trusted person to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf. This power is triggered if you lose capacity to make your own decisions.
  • Medi-Cal planning: Strategies to help you manage and mitigate the cost of nursing care.
  • Trusts: Legal tools for reducing your taxable estate and protecting assets from probate.

Estate Planning vs. Wills

We can summarize the key differences between estate plans and wills as follows.

  • Wills are a legal document for how to divide your assets upon death. Estate plans are collections of legal documents covering your entire estate in life and death.
  • A plan usually includes a will. But it covers a much larger range of legal issues.
  • A will’s provisions usually only apply after you die. Estate plans are relevant during life.

Estate Plan or Will: What Do I Need?

Estate plans and wills serve different purposes. As such, it’s best to have both a comprehensive estate plan and a will. This ensures that your entire estate is protected – in life and after death.

Estate planning is a complex matter. Hiring an estate planning attorney will help to ensure that your wishes are protected. They will explain your options, the pros and cons of different strategies, and help you avoid legal pitfalls.

At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we’re committed to guiding you through the estate planning process. We will walk you through the steps and ensure that you can make informed decisions. From wills to trusts, our experienced team can assist with all matters of estate planning.

Call now or complete our contact form to schedule a meeting with an estate planning attorney.