Only 18% of Americans age 55 and older have a will and two other estate planning documents, according to a new report by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave. Even more concerning is that 45% of people age 55 and older do not have a will.

Why does everyone need to have a will, including you? If you die without a will, the state will dictate how your assets are distributed. For parents, a judge will decide who will take care of your children. This could lead to serious repercussions and fights among your family.

What to include in your estate plan

Estate planning does not have to be complicated. What do you need in your estate plan? It depends on you and your family’s situation. Consider including the following documents and addressing common issues in your estate plan:

  • Will: This will address how your assets will be distributed and who will look after any minor children. You should appoint an executor you trust to make sure your wishes are honored.
  • Advance Directive: This document can include a Living Will, Health Care Proxy and Do Not Resuscitate Order. These legal documents will outline your wishes for your care in the event you are incapacitated.
  • Power of Attorney: Consider setting up a durable power of attorney to name who will manage your financial issues in the event you cannot.
  • Beneficiaries: Add, update and review your beneficiaries every few years to ensure the right people will receive your assets when you pass away. It is important to update these after major life events such as marriage, divorce or adding a new family member, such as a grandchild.
  • Keep important documents safe: Consider keeping all important documents together in a safe location that a trusted family member or friend knows about. This will help your family manage your estate.

One of the best tips is to review and update your estate plan often. Make sure your estate plan stays up-to-date with your life and wishes to ensure you and your loved ones are looked after now and in the future.

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