The phrase "estate planning" may sound like an exercise for the very rich, but thanks to the complicated nature of the U.S. legal system, even people with modest assets need a written document, or will, that specifies how those assets will be distributed upon their death. Yet according to a recent survey by the Harris Poll, 64 percent of Americans have not made a will.
The top reason cited? They "haven't gotten around to it yet." They also fear it will be difficult and expensive, says Lisa Honey, director of product marketing for Rocket Lawyer, the online legal resource that commissioned the survey. Then there's the simple fact that, as Honey puts it, "people don't want to think about death."
That's understandable. But if you don't have a will, a judge will be making key decisions about your estate, not you.
All estates, whether there's a will or not, are subject to review by state probate courts — a fact that some people mistakenly believe negates the need for a will. But when there are no written instructions to guide them, lawyers and other legal representatives often work slowly and follow set formulas that may not reflect your wishes.