Numerous surveys show that the majority of adult Americans don’t have a will or trust, and the main reason given is that they have just been putting it off. In many cases creating an estate plan may not be a priority in your busy life, or it may not even seem necessary especially for those who are younger. But, you don’t want to be unprepared for unexpected life events, and developing an estate plan is worth your time and effort.

What is an Estate Plan?

An estate plan can have many components and will often need to be amended during your life as you marry, divorce, have children or acquire assets. It is more than just having a will, it is really a complete plan for finances, family and health care. It can be approached in stages and does not need to be avoided as a major or daunting project.

If you are unsure if an estate plan is important at your stage of life and circumstances, here is a quick self-test to see where to begin:

Are you over the age of 18?

Then at a minimum you need an advance health care directive for medical decisions.

Are you married or in a civil partnership?

If you want your spouse to have 100% of your assets, then you need a will or trust. Otherwise, 50% percent will go to your other family members under intestate laws.

Do you have children under the age of 18?

You will need to name a guardian and should have a trust and life insurance to provide for their future care.

Do you own appreciated real property, either alone or with your spouse?

There are ways to minimize taxes through trusts or shifting ownership while you are still alive.

Do you have significant assets or investments, such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts or IRAs?

You will want to specify how assets are distributed to your heirs, rather than have intestate and probate laws control the outcome.

The Next Step

If any of these situations apply to you, then it is time to have a discussion with an estate planning attorney. They will guide you with recommendations and can draft the right documents for your circumstances. You can take it a step at a time, and you may find that it brings you peace of mind knowing that you are actively planning for your family’s future.