Estate Planning is the financial planning concept of establishing a corpus or estate that will be left to beneficiaries. The main planning issues involved are generally control and taxes.The estate includes all bank and brokerage accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, business ownership, limited partnership, real estate, income due to the estate and interests with any value. Life insurance, if properly titled and held, will avoid being included in the estate.
Some individuals would like their estates distributed immediately on their passing and others have very specific controls on the distribution of their assets, sometimes controlling them through trusts for several generations--referred to as "managing from the grave." Estate planning matches the complexity of the wishes with the complexity of the instrument needed to accomplish this. The most common instruments are a will, a trust, custodial documents.
Taxes vary by country and so do the methods of trying to preserve as much of the assets as possible from the death tax. For US investors, this concern, for the moment, only comes from estates valued at greater than $3 million upon death.