The Difference Between a Will and an Estate Plan

Many people assume that a will is the only document they need to plan for their passing. While wills are valuable, they only address one aspect of your future. If you want to truly prepare for the future, you need an estate plan, not just a will. 

Estate plans and wills have some similarities, but they are not the same. Below, we have summarized the difference between wills and estate plans and explained the benefits of thorough planning over just writing a will. 

What Is a Will?

A will is a legal document used to explain how the signer wants their assets to be distributed after their passing. Wills can also include instructions about caring for a minor child. The will names an executor, or the person responsible for ensuring the document is followed. 

Wills may be short or long. People with simple wishes or few heirs may have a will that is only a few pages long. People with more complex estates can have wills multiple times that length, particularly if they have specific instructions for many individual assets.

Wills are essential for adults of all ages. They provide clear instructions regarding the signer’s last wishes, so there’s no doubt or confusion about how to handle things after they pass. As such, they reduce the time an estate must spend in probate court and minimize the costs associated with distributing the assets or awarding custody. Anyone with children or an appreciable amount of assets can benefit from having a will in place. 

What Is an Estate Plan?

An estate plan is significantly more involved than a will. These plans cover much more than distributing assets or assigning custody. They are used to plan for all aspects of the future when you can no longer make decisions for yourself. Most plans are made up of multiple components, including: 

  • Wills: How your property and children will be handled after your passing
  • Powers of attorney: Who may make financial, legal, or medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated
  • Advance directives: Instructions on the types of medical treatment you would like to receive if you are unable to make your own decisions
  • Trusts: Legal entities that set forth rules and restrictions regarding the assets they contain and name beneficiaries
  • Life insurance: Insurance coverage to provide funds to your dependents after your passing

So, while a will is part of an estate plan, these plans involve significantly more than just wills. 

Benefits of Comprehensive Estate Plans Over Simple Wills

Writing a will is a meaningful way to prepare for the future. However, it only addresses one element of a complete estate plan. A will doesn’t cover anything that occurs while you’re still alive and doesn’t directly provide your loved ones with support. When you’re thinking about the future, a comprehensive plan has three critical benefits over a will alone:

  • Clarity: When you produce an estate plan, you must consider details like what kind of end-of-life care you want and who you want to be responsible for your wishes. In answering those questions, producing advance directives, and assigning powers of attorney, you’ll provide your loved ones with clarity on your last wishes. This ensures you’ll receive the care you want and significantly reduces the stress and anxiety your loved ones may face when trying to make these decisions without your guidance.
  • Simplicity: In making your final wishes clear, you make them simpler to achieve. A good estate plan removes roadblocks that could leave your property in probate court for months or years. Compared to a will on its own, a thorough plan makes it much simpler to distribute your assets and fulfill your wishes.
  • Strategy: These plans allow you to be much more strategic about distributing your assets than wills. During the planning process, you’ll have the opportunity to create trusts and gifting plans to ensure that your assets go to the people they’re intended for. You can also minimize the impact of taxes and probate court costs on your heirs.

Draft a Thorough Estate Plan With Expert Legal Counsel

Because of the subjects they address, estate plans must be drafted carefully. If you’re considering writing a will or plan, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney like the experts at the Dayton Law Firm, P.C. We will help you produce a plan to protect your loved ones, ensure your final wishes are respected, and reduce the stress and uncertainty the future brings. Please email us or call us at +1-408-758-5750 to learn more about how we can help.