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What is an "estate?"

Many of our previous posts here have addressed some of the most important topics regarding estate planning in Pennsylvania. But, some people may start the estate planning process with the most logical starting point: What, exactly, is an "estate?"

When most people think of the word "estate," they probably either think of a large piece of property with a mansion on it, or the accumulated wealth of a "rich" person or family. While those images might not be, technically speaking, wrong, when it comes to estate planning the word has a slightly simpler meaning. In short, an "estate" comprises the assets, funds and debts that people leave behind when they die.

So, doesn't that mean that everyone has an estate, no matter how small? With few exceptions, absolutely. It is important for everyone in Pennsylvania to realize that, almost universally, everyone has an estate that must be addressed when they die. The vast majority of people have assets like homes, cars and personal property, while also having issues like credit card debt to address.

In essence, if everyone has an estate, then it is probably obvious that everyone should have an estate plan, no matter how meager we perceive the assets in our estate to be. Without a comprehensive estate plan, Pennsylvania state law will determine how a person's assets will be distributed upon death. In some cases, that may not be what the person wishes to happen. Young or old, Pennsylvania residents would be well served to look into their estate planning needs if they have not done so already.

Source: MSN, "Estate planning not just for baby boomers," Dec. 13, 2017

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