Estate Planning Primer: Things to Consider

People often think of estate planning as something for those with an ultra high net worth. In fact, around one-third of Americans who don’t currently have estate plans believe they have too few assets to warrant building one for.1 But estate planning is something that everybody should consider regardless of wealth. So, how can you ensure your family will be taken care of in your absence?

To help you prepare, here’s a quick primer on estate planning – what it is, why it matters, and how you can start preparing.

What is Legacy or Estate Planning?

Your estate is the sum of all your property and financial assets, including your home, car, investments, bank accounts, and more. Planning out and legally documenting who will receive what once you’ve passed on is essential to ensuring your wishes are carried out. Otherwise, inheritance matters could end up contested.

Estate planning is, therefore, the process of choosing which of your possessions will go to which specific people or organizations upon your passing. It also includes instructions for your care and that of your loved ones should you become incapable of making medical or financial decisions.

An estate plan essentially covers the who, the what, and the how:

  • Who: Your plan outlines who can make decisions on your behalf and who will receive assets.
  • What: It also dictates which assets will go to the beneficiaries you’ve specified.
  • How: Finally, it determines the manner in which your possessions will be distributed, such as by a written trust.2

Critical Questions to Ask Yourself

Before you begin planning your estate, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What Does My Estate Consist of?

Understanding the various assets and accounts you currently possess is an essential step in determining how to handle those assets and which beneficiaries will receive what.

  • Who Should Be My Trustee or Executor?

Your trustee or executor will be responsible for managing your assets and carrying out your last wishes from your will. This should be a trusted family member, friend, or professional.

  • How Will I Prepare My Family?

It’s always important to talk with your family about your will and wishes – not only to ensure your assets and family are financially protected, but also to avoid any potential conflicts.

Tips for Estate Planning

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to begin getting your estate plan in order. While it may make sense to connect with a financial or legal professional at this point, here are a few tips to help you start planning your estate:

Take Stock of Your Assets

The first step is to document all of the tangible and intangible assets you currently possess. These include things like:

  • Houses, land, or other real estate property.
  • Vehicles and personal possessions.
  • Bank accounts.
  • Stocks, bonds, and other securities.
  • Life insurance and retirement plans.
  • Digital assets and accounts.
  • Whatever other assets, financial or otherwise, you may want to pass down.

Consider Your Family’s Needs and Wishes

Next, consider what your family may need to support themselves and maintain the standard of living you want for them. In addition to individual family matters, such as a child or grandchild’s college tuition, this also includes accounting for their financial stability and wellbeing. For instance, if your children are still minors and there isn’t another parent in the picture, you should choose a guardian to care for them after you’re gone. Don’t forget that you can also put stipulations in place for pets.

Detail Your Wishes in Estate Planning Documents

As you’re planning your estate, you’ll need to establish certain legal directives, such as creating a trust or written will outlining your wishes surrounding medical care. You may also want to designate specific financial or legal professionals to represent your estate and carry out your wishes.

Update Your Beneficiaries

While you work through your estate planning documents, you may come across an old account with outdated beneficiary information. After all, your wishes may change over the course of your life, so it’s important to keep these designations up to date across all your policies and accounts. Otherwise, your assets could end up passing in a way you don’t approve of.

Consider Seeking Professional Advice

While it’s possible to plan your estate by yourself, it’s always a good idea to seek professional advice on these potentially-complex legal and financial matters. A financial planner can help guide you through the process of estate planning, clarify existing options, and recommend investments and strategies to achieve your goals. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Start thinking about your estate today to ensure you can protect your legacy for generations to come.

This material is intended for informational/educational purposes only and should not be construed as tax, legal or investment advice, a solicitation, or a recommendation to buy or sell any security or investment product. Investments are subject to risk, including the loss of principal. Some investments are not suitable for all investors, and there is no guarantee that any investing goal will be met. We make no representation as to the completeness or accuracy of information provided at these websites. Information on such sites, including third-party links contained within, should not be construed as an endorsement or adoption of any kind. Please consult with your financial professional and/or a legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation and before making any investing decisions.


Cobb, D. (2022) 2022 Wills and Estate Planning Study.,

2 Napoletano, E. (Nov. 28, 2022) Estate Planning Basics. Forbes,

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