A brick house with a stone walkway in front of it.

Everybody has an estate. It’s nothing more or less than the sum total of your assets and possessions of value: car, home, financial accounts, investments and personal property.

Estate planning is the process of deciding which people or organizations receive your possessions once you’ve passed on. It’s also how you leave instructions for managing your care and assets if you are incapacitated and unable to make financial or medical decisions.

All estate plans should include documents that cover three main areas: asset transfer, medical needs and financial decisions.

The most common asset transfer documents are wills and trusts. These documents will help you name your wishes regarding distribution of your assets to the correct beneficiaries.

Should you not have basic estate planning documents in place—and in a location where your loved ones or those you trust can find them—your estate will go through probate, no matter how big or small.