Where There's a Will There's a Way - The Importance of Estate Plans

A shocking recent survey found that almost half of Americans do not have a will — one of the most important documents that a person can draft during his or her lifetime. According to the survey by Rocket Lawyer, 71 percent of adults under age 34 do not have a will. While the lack of having a will in this younger age group is not as surprising, the survey found that a significant number of older baby boomers still do not have a will — about 41 percent.

Most people said that they don't have wills because they are too expensive, are procrastinating or think that they don't have sufficient assets.

Consequences of Dying Without a Will

The ramifications of dying without a will can be disastrous. For one thing, if you die without a will, you have almost no control over how your assets will be distributed. Instead, how your property is to be divided is controlled by the intestacy laws of the states in which you live or own property. After you die, your property goes to who the law says it should go to, which, in many cases, is not necessarily who you would prefer.

In addition, dying without a will can increase the burden on your loved ones. Wills allow you to give specific items to specific people in your life. Without a will, your loved ones may end up fighting over who gets certain sentimental items that you possessed. Instead of you deciding, a judge must make a decision.

Finally, there may be tax consequences for dying without a will. Wills and other estate planning methods can minimize the estate taxes owed on your property. Without a will, a significant amount of your estate could go to the federal and state governments instead of your loved ones.

Wills in the Technological Age

A will is a necessary tool to protect your assets in the modern age. As there are more cohabitating unmarried couples — many with children — and same-sex couples than ever, a will is absolutely necessary to ensure that your family is protected. As state intestacy laws often do not recognize these relationships, if you die without a will in place, your assets may go to your parents, siblings or other more distant relatives, instead of your immediate family.

In addition to protecting nontraditional families, a will can ensure that your pets are taken care of. Some people have spoken informal understandings for the care of their pets after they die, but circumstances can change. Without a will, your pets may go to a shelter instead of a loved one.

Speak With an Estate Planning Attorney

As the laws regarding estate planning and estate taxes are complicated and can vary by state, there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to estate planning. It is advisable to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney who can craft an estate plan that is right for your particular circumstances.