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1. Prepare Your Estate Plan — Introduction

How will your assets be distributed upon your death? Have you prepared for the distribution of your estate for the loved ones you will leave behind? Perhaps you have …

A Will: Who Needs One


A will is an estate-planning tool that serves as your set of instructions regarding who gets your property and resources when you die. At a minimum, everyone needs a simple will. It is the document that most people use for transferring their property, and it is often the choice of young families and of others whose situations involve neither complex tax planning nor resource management for incapacitated family members. After death, the will is settled through the probate process.

To …

Gifting and Tax Strategies

Image of a family including grandparents

It is important to evaluate the effects of federal and estate taxes on estate planning. An estate may be subject to taxes before it is distributed to beneficiaries.

A specified portion of an estate is exempt from estate taxes. During 2012, the first $5,120,000 of an estate can be distributed to children or other heirs tax-free. The top federal estate tax rate on the taxable portion of an estate is 35% in 2012.

While most gifts or estates are not …

Planning for Your Estate

Family silhouette in front of a clock

Estate planning is arranging for the orderly transfer of your property and resources to other people during life and after death. Your estate is essentially everything that you own. Your property and resources can be transferred through beneficiaries identified in documents (i.e., pensions and life insurance policies), wills, trusts, gifts, and joint ownership of property—all of which can be part of an estate plan.

Since you may accumulate many resources during your lifetime, you will probably want to decide to …

Changing a Will


It is sometimes necessary to change a will. A codicil is a legal document that amends a will. You might find it necessary to make changes when the following events occur:

  • Marriage, remarriage, or divorce
  • Birth of a child
  • Move to another state
  • Acquisition of additional assets
  • Changes in federal and state laws

Divorce and separation can affect a will. In some states, divorce can revoke the entire will. In other states, it revokes only those provisions in the will …

Common Types of Powers of Attorney

A person taking an oath in a court of law

Power of Attorney: This document is commonly known as a financial power of attorney and gives one person (the agent) authority to act on behalf of another person (the principal). Full power or limited power can be granted in the document.

Attorney-in-fact: A person who is given authority by a power of attorney; sometimes called an agent. This person does not have to be a lawyer. It could be your spouse, an adult child, or close friend.

Durable Power of

Prepare Your Estate Plan

African-American couple

How will your assets be distributed upon your death? Have you prepared for the distribution of your estate for the loved ones you will leave behind? Perhaps you have made plans to distribute your estate, and they need to be reviewed and updated. In any case, you can proceed through this lesson and learn more.

This lesson has unique sections that lead you through the learning process and can be viewed sequentially or in a random order. Select a unit …

Prepare Your Estate Plan: Acknowledgments

Legally Secure Your Financial Future is a self-study curriculum to help you organize your important papers, communicate your wishes about legal and other issues, and prepare your financial affairs.

Content development by:

Marilyn C. Bischoff, M.S., Team Leader, Extension Professor and Family Economics Specialist, University of Idaho Extension; University of Idaho–Boise, 322 E. Front St., Ste. 180, Boise, ID 83702-7364; 208-364-9910;

Joanne Bankston, Ph.D., Family Economics and Management Specialist, Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Program, Frankfort

Elizabeth E. Gorham, …

Prepare Your Estate Plan: Case Studies and Resources

Initiating Discussions about Property Distributions

Do you have concerns about property-distribution issues? Discuss these particular situations with your adult children, trusted friends, or parent/guardian. The correct responses are provided for residents of Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Types of Joint Ownership

Several types of joint ownership are described below:

Community Property: The laws of some states specify that most property acquired by either spouse during a marriage is held equally by husband and wife as community property. Laws in a community property state provide that any property purchased or salary earned by a married couple during the course of their marriage is owned equally by each.

Graphic of Community Property concept

Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship: This type of joint ownership states that, upon death, …