An estate is all the money, property and assets that are owned by someone at the time of their death. When a person talks about estate planning, they are usually referring to how their assets will be distributed at death.
The most basic estate planning document, and arguably the most important, is the Will. A Will outlines not only who gets your property upon your death, but also who is responsible for the distribution of that property. The person who writes the will is known as the Testator or Testatrix. Once he or she dies, the Will becomes the governing document over his or her estate when probated. While the Testator or Testatrix is living, the Will can be revoked or amended. Upon death, a Will should be probated through Probate Court, where the court oversees the administration of the Will and distribution of the assets. If a person dies without a Will, a Will cannot be found, or the Will is invalid, then state law will determine the asset distribution.
A trust allows you to declare that one person or entity, known as the trustee, holds property for the benefit of another person or entity. It often details how, when, or for whom property is to be used. There are several types of trusts. Unlike a will, some trusts go into effect as soon as they are created. Property can be distributed before death, at death, or in accordance with the Will. Also, unlike a Will, which is public record, a trust can remain private. There can be tax benefits to creating trusts. Usually, the court does not need to oversee a trust.