Wow, what a truly great question. Estate planning is the process by which an individual or couple put in writing how they want their assets to be disposed of the time of their death. In many, a simple will, will do and all the provisions are placed in the will itself. In other circumstances, the will serves as a relatively simple device and leaves the assets of which it has control to a living trust otherwise known as a Revocable Trust. The process begins by creating a spreadsheet indicating which assets are owned by which spouse and which assets are in joint name. Care must be taken here because there are three types of joint property. A will can only control the assets that are in your name alone. Joint assets with right of survivorship pass to the surviving spouse by operational law regardless of what the will says. This is very similar to beneficiary designations under life insurance policies, retirement accounts, annuities, etc. as by naming a beneficiary these proceeds pass outside of the estate for probate purposes but not for tax purposes. Under current federal estate tax laws, each individual has a $5.43 million exemption before estate taxes imposed at the federal level. This leaves less than 1.5% of all the estates in the country that will pay a federal estate tax. However, planning is critical and you may need a competent fee-only financial advisor and professional estate planning attorney to guide you in any situation in which there may be some complexity. Very often a will will contain a trust for the benefit of minor children in the event of the death of both spouses and names a guardian and also a trustee. I hope this helps as a starting point and good luck.
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