Estate planning is the process of anticipating and arranging for the disposal of an estate. Estate planning typically attempts to eliminate uncertainties over the administration of a probate and maximize the value of the estate by reducing taxes and other expenses. Guardians are often designated for minor children and beneficiaries in incapacity.
Estate planning involves the will, trusts, beneficiary designations, powers of appointment, property ownership (joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, tenancy in common, tenancy by the entirety), gift, and powers of attorney, specifically the durable financial power of attorney and the durable medical power of attorney. After widespread litigation and media coverage surrounding the Terri Schiavo case, virtually all estate planning attorneys now advise clients to also create a living will. Specific final arrangements, such as whether to be buried or cremated, are also often part of the documents. And more sophisticated estate plans may even cover deferring or decreasing estate taxes or winding up a business.
Many people (and even some attorneys) confuse a living will with a durable medical power of attorney. A living will sets out directives concerning end of life decisions, whereas a medical durable power of attorney gives all medical decision making authority to an appointed individual upon incapacity, including end of life decisions. Some people have both a living will and a health care power of attorney. Some, who wish to give complete discretion to a loved one, including end of life decision, have only a health care power of attorney.