Depending on the size and scope of your assets and the specific nature of your wishes it may be necessary to implement a combination of estate planning instruments to enable the optimal transfer of assets. However, when you engage the services of an experienced estate planning attorney, he or she can greatly simplify the matter and explain your options to you in an understandable manner.
This having been stated a lot of people are only going to need a very basic estate plan. Everyone must decide on some vehicle of asset transfer, and it is also wise to have an incapacity plan in place so that decision-makers of your own choosing are empowered to act in the event of your incapacitation.
When it comes to passing along assets to your loved ones most individuals immediately think of the last will, and this is of course an option. But when you use a last will as your primary vehicle of asset transfer your estate must pass through the process of probate. There are pitfalls involved with probate including significant expenses, and many people choose to avoid it through the creation of revocable living trusts. With these vehicles the transfer of assets takes place outside of the probate process so it is done more quickly and efficiently.
For the most part incapacity planning revolves around executing the appropriate powers of attorney. You would want to use durable powers of attorney because they remain in effect upon the incapacitation of the grantor. With these documents you name attorneys-in-fact who are empowered to act in your behalf should you become unable to make decisions on your own at some point in time.
The best way to approach estate planning is to recognize the fact that it is a legal matter that requires the expertise of an experienced estate planning attorney. With this mind, your first step is simple: arrange for a consultation with an elder law or estate planning specialist.