Most Americans do not have an estate plan with a Will or Trust.  According to a survey published this month on Caring.com, fewer than half of American adults (42 percent) have a Will or Trust.  The most common excuse given: “I just haven’t gotten around to it”, cited by nearly half of survey participants who lack a Will. The older someone is, the more likely they are, however, to have estate planning documents in place. Just one in five millennials (adults 18 to 36) has a Will, while 81 percent of people 72 and older have one. Even more surprising is that 64 percent of Generation X (ages 37 to 52) do not have a will, and nearly half of respondents in the 53 to 71-year-old age group (40 percent) said they do not have one.

The problem, according to experts, is that younger Americans are generally unconcerned with their mortality, which perpetuates the misconception that a Will is not necessary until later in life, and falsely believe that a Will is only needed for those with substantial wealth or complex finances. While baby boomers know they should have a Will in place, planning for or considering one’s death can be uncomfortable. Most people put off this process as long as they can, but that is unwise.

In particular, if you have children under age 18, your Will nominates a guardian to care for your children should you die. If you do not nominate guardians in a Will, a stranger (judge) will decide who will take care of your children.  In addition, regardless of age or assets, a Will allows you to make the decisions about who should inherit from you and how, who will take care of handling your estate, and make it much easier on the loved ones you leave behind. Even if you do not have the wealth of Warren Buffet or Mark Zuckerberg, what you do have means something to someone.  Without a Will it is very possible that your assets will be given to persons you would not want or expect under intestate law.

It is much easier to put your estate plan in place than most people think. The basic legal documents everyone over age 18 should have consist of a health care power of attorney, living will, financial power of attorney, and Will. Depending on your wishes and estate, a Trust may also make sense as part of your estate plan. Broadly speaking, the complexity and cost of setting up a Will or trust depends on the complexity of your circumstances and assets. Some factors that tend to complicate plans include multiple marriages, children from different relationships, business assets, higher net-worth, or heirs with special needs. Whether your estate plan is simple or complex, a qualified lawyer should be used to draw up documents and update them regularly to ensure your wishes will be honored and you leave a legacy and not a mess.

If you are like most Americans and need to set up or update your estate plan, we can help!

-Stephanie Bivens, JD, CELA