In the Empire State, navigating inheritance planning and distribution can feel so confusing you don’t know where to begin. Aside from consulting with an estate planning attorney, understanding the terms can save time during the process. Part of the confusion is simply with the wording. What is “estate planning” vs “will?” While they often get used interchangeably, knowing their distinction is helpful if you want to secure your desired legacy.

What Is Estate Planning vs. Will?

The Cornerstone: Your Last Will and Testament

A Will is a legal document, duly witnessed and signed, that outlines your wishes for the distribution of your assets after your death. It dictates who inherits your possessions, cherished heirlooms, and accumulated wealth. A Will can:

Designate Beneficiaries

A Will specifies who receives what. This provides clarity for your heirs and prevents intestacy, which is where the State decides what to do with your estate without reference to your wishes. Jotting some things down on a note or telling a loved one what you’d like isn’t enough: the state will intervene unless there is a legally executed Will.

Appoint an Executor

This trusted individual handles the legal and administrative tasks of settling your estate, ensuring your wishes are carried out efficiently and effectively.

Name a Guardian 

If you have young children, your will designates a responsible person to raise them in accordance with your values and wishes.

Specify Funeral Arrangements

If you have specific preferences for your final send-off, your will can detail them, which will ease the burden on your loved ones during a difficult time.

Beyond the Will: Building a Comprehensive Estate Plan

While a Will is a very crucial document in your estate plan, it’s not enough by itself. A good estate plan covers a much larger range of issues.

Living Wills and Medical Power of Attorney

A living will outlines your end-of-life wishes concerning life-sustaining treatments, while a medical power of attorney appoints someone to make medical decisions on your behalf when you can’t.


These hold certain assets outside your estate, potentially minimizing taxes and offering more control over how assets are managed and distributed.

Retirement Accounts and Life Insurance

Beneficiary designations on these accounts allow for streamlined transfer of assets outside the probate process.

Durable Power of Attorney

This document empowers someone to make financial decisions for you if you cannot.

New York-Specific Considerations

If you die without a will, New York’s intestacy laws dictate how your assets are distributed. If there is a surviving spouse, the entire estate goes to him or her, unless there are children. In that case, there are specific ways of dividing the estate, depending on its value and type of property. If there is no spouse, the children divide the entire estate. If there are no children and no spouse, other potential heirs include grandchildren and parents of the deceased.

Wills typically go through probate court, which is a legal process for validating the will and settling the estate. However, trusts can often bypass probate, offering faster and less public distribution of assets.

There’s a lot that goes into a good estate plan, but once the plan is in place, you’ll have great peace of mind. Contact Joseph N. Yamaner and Associates for expert help across the entire New York City and surrounding areas.