Today, a small collection of resources for Wills and estate planning. Findlaw, and Cornell's Legal Information Institute have pages on Wills and estate planning that (I think) give good information to the general public (and there may be some things here for you lawyers reading this post).
Estate Planning | LII / Legal Information InstituteThe "Wills" section of FindLaw's Estate Planning Center provides an overview of the different types of will documents, information on requirements for making a will legally valid, tips on updating your will, and much more.
An estate is the total property, real and personal, owned by an individual prior to distribution through a trust or will. Real property is real estate and personal property includes everything else, for example cars, household items, and bank accounts. Estate planning distributes the real and personal property to an individual's heirs.Wills: An Overview - Estate Planning and Probate
Estate planning is the process by which an individual or family arranges the transfer of assets in anticipation of death. An estate plan aims to preserve the maximum amount of wealth possible for the intended beneficiaries and flexibility for the individual prior to death. A major concern for drafters of estate plans is federal and state tax law.
Wills and trusts are common ways in which individuals dispose of their wealth. (See Estates and Trusts). Trusts, unlike wills, have the benefit of avoiding probate, a lengthy and costly legal process that oversees the transfer of assets. Sometimes, though, it will be useful to make inter vivos gifts (gifts made while the donor is alive) in order to minimize taxes. The Federal Gift Tax exempts certain levels of lifetime gifts. (See Estate Tax)
Wills are the most common way for people to state their preferences about how their estates should be handled after their deaths. Many people use their wills to express their deepest sentiments toward their loved ones. A well-written will eases the transition for survivors by transferring property quickly and avoiding many tax burdens. Despite these advantages, many estimates figure that at least seventy percent of Americans do not have valid wills. While it is difficult to contemplate mortality, many people find that great peace of mind results from putting their affairs in order.
Wills vary from extremely simple single-page documents to elaborate volumes, depending on the estate size and preferences of the person making the will (the "testator"). Wills describe the estate, the people who will receive specific property (the "devisees"), and even special instructions about care of minor children, gifts to charity, and formation of posthumous trusts. Many people choose to disinherit people who might usually be expected to receive property. For all these examples, the testator must follow the legal rules for wills in order to make the document effective.