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What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is a term that has changed dramatically over the years. At one time, estate planning meant having a will that would go through probate and, if a person was married, titling property jointly with a spouse. It conjured up visions of death and of wealthy families gathered in attorneys' wood-paneled offices listening to wills being read. It suggested that the wealthy should plan so that they could avoid estate taxes. Changes in the laws and changing views of finance, lifestyle, privacy, nontraditional families, and longevity of life have made estate planning far more interesting and, frankly, more compelling for a larger group of people than ever before.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, estate planning attorneys debated wills and probate versus living trust planning. That argument has been settled. Most Americans now recognize that living trust–centered estate planning is more suited for the modern, mobile society in which we now live.

For these and many other reasons, estate planning is no longer will planning or tax planning only for the wealthy. Estate planning is financial, retirement, business succession, charitable, medical, disability, legacy, and gift planning. Its scope is not daunting, as it might seem from this list; it is exciting and rich in opportunities.

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