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If You Don’t Have a Will, You’re Not Alone – But That’s Not a Good Thing

A recent USA Today article noted that fewer older Americans have estate plans than ever before.  This troubling trend should sound alarm bells throughout the land, but for a majority of Americans this is not news at all.  In fact, it’s estimated that only about one third of adults have an estate plan.  Of the two-thirds that don’t have any advanced planning in place, almost three-quarters are women.

The statistics are downright worrisome, but why are so many of us foregoing this valuable strategy?  The reasons vary, and none are good.

You’re young…nothing bad is going to happen anytime soon

Translation: You’re in denial and not thinking responsibly.  That said, there is no judgment here.  We’re all human, and it’s our nature to avoid thinking about this kind of stuff.  But burying your head in the sand doesn’t make it go away.  In fact, that tactic ends up backfiring on way too many good people.  Face it, the unexpected does indeed happen.  Why not be ready?

And it’s not just about having a will or trust.  Less than a third of adults understand what a health care power of attorney is, let alone comprehend the importance of having one.  Not to mention the other ancillary documents every adult over 18 years old should have, including a medical directive, durable power of attorney, and HIPAA authorization.  These documents serve you during your lifetime, not after you pass away.  They allow you to name trusted family members or friends to make decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated and can’t make decisions on your own, whether it be due to accident or illness.  This may be the single smartest way to spend that extra $200 that’s burning a hole in your pocket.

You hear a lot about estate planning, but who cares if you die without a will?

Who cares?  Your loved ones will definitely care, because the time and money they will have to spend to probate and administer your estate will be more than the cost of creating the estate plan in the first place.  If you’d only looked ahead you would understand the burden you create on those you leave behind by not planning ahead.

Here are some more questions to ask yourself.  Who will take care of your minor children?  How will your small business survive?  Who will get your prized baseball card collection?  What charity would benefit from your testamentary gift?  Do you really want the state deciding how much money your grandchildren receive?  Will my loved ones fight over who gets what?  Will they have to pay tax on my assets?

The answers to all of these conundrums can be found in a thoughtful estate plan.

You think you don’t have enough assets or time…and it’s expensive, right?

Many people think they don’t need to plan ahead because they don’t have enough assets to justify the cost or the time.  But these perceptions are largely without merit.  While higher value estates that require complex tax planning can cost more and require more time to complete, the other 99% of us (literally) can get away with a cost-effective, time-friendly plan.  Estate plans for individuals and married couples with small estates (under $1 million in assets) can be done in a few hours for a few hundred dollars.  Attorneys are adept at making the process as painless as possible, and most offer payment plans if the cost is truly an issue.

And by now it should go without saying that no matter how large or small the value of your estate, you need an estate plan.  A simple way of looking at it is: If you can answer yes to any of the following questions, you need an estate plan.  Do you own assets in your name?  Are you married?  Are you a parent?  Do you have a parent that’s still alive?  Do you have children?  Are you over the age of 18?

Bottom line, if you’re an adult you need an estate plan.

You know it’s important but just haven’t had time…and where do you start?

About a third of adults don’t have a plan because they just haven’t gotten around to doing it.  Many perceive the estate planning process to be unpleasant and costly, and frankly, thinking about our demise isn’t the way most of us want to spend our weekends.  All of this fuels procrastination, which in turn exacerbates the problem.

As mentioned earlier, however, it’s not so bad.  After you eliminate the concerns of cost and time commitment, it’s just a matter of taking the first step.  It may be tempting to take the easy way out and purchase an online will – but just “getting it over it with” is not how you should treat this project.  And online estate planning tools are fraught with perils.  Do you really want to trust your family’s security on a robot?

The best way to start your estate plan is talk to a trusted attorney that either has experience drafting estate plans or can refer you to any attorney who does.  Can’t find an attorney?  Search online for estate planning professionals in your area and reach out to a few that have good ratings or just seem like a good fit.  Trust is key.  Ultimately you want to be comfortable with your estate planning partner to ensure that you’re happy with the end result.

In the end, there really is no rational reason you can’t get this done.  So take the first step today – or maybe reading this article is your first step (!)  If so, congratulations.  Your loved ones will thank you.


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This article is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be legal, financial, or tax advice. The information provided herein was accurate at the time of publication and is subject to change without notice. We recommend that you consult an estate planning attorney or a tax advisor to discuss how current laws apply to your situation.

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