Estate planning can be a complex undertaking involving complicated legal documents, numerous tax considerations, and difficult personal decisions.

An estate plan can provide a strategy to conserve assets while you are alive and distribute them after you die. Your estate plan can outline who will manage the settlement of your estate and who will manage the affairs of any children who are minors. Elderly parents, disabled children, and gifts to your favorite charity are special situations that can also be managed.

The key to any successful estate plan is finding the right attorney or advisor to work with you.

Planning for death is not a pleasant subject — many people avoid it entirely. But consider that in the absence of a formal document specifying your wishes, your state’s laws will determine how your assets will be distributed — and even who will assume guardianship of your children. The court’s decisions could be radically different from your own wishes.

Another compelling reason to have an estate plan is to ensure your wishes are carried out while minimizing complications and costs for your heirs. These costs can run into the thousands of dollars if you have a poorly constructed plan — or no estate plan at all.

There are many tax implications to consider as well. Depending on your estate’s size and structure, federal estate, and income taxes; state estate, income, and inheritance taxes; and gift taxes may apply. With a well-structured estate plan, you may be able to keep your estate from being unnecessarily depleted by taxes to preserve assets for your heirs.

Most sound estate plans make use of multiple planning tools to help meet their goals.

Some of the most common tools are:

  1. Wills
  2. Trusts
  3. Gifts
  4. Life insurance
  5. Joint ownership of property

Every individual’s estate is different, so the mix of planning tools will vary. The value of your estate, the age of your children (if any), the types of investments you own, and your marital status will help determine which tools should be used.

The key to any successful estate plan is finding the right advisor to work with you.