A will is the most basic part of any estate plan. It forms the foundation of that plan, dividing assets and leaving them to specific heirs. It should, theoretically, get coupled with things like a legal power of attorney, an advance directive and a medical power of attorney.
As important as it is, most people do not have a will. Reports show that about 60 percent of people in the United States have failed to draft one.
There's an inevitability about this. Everyone eventually reaches the end of their own life. We all know it. And yet most of us do nothing at all to plan for it. You could argue that even those who have just a will and nothing else -- thereby falling into the 40 percent who have done some estate planning -- have perhaps not done enough if they haven't considered long-term care planning and powers of attorney.
Why does this happen?
The big question, then, is why people don't do it. Odds are that you do not have a will, even as you read this. If you do, you still know that most people around you do not.
One reason is simple optimism. People believe they will live at least until the age of average life expectancy. In the United States, that was 78.6 years old in 2016, the last year for which data has been compiled. That's a slight decline, which is frightening, but it's still a long way off for most people. If you're 40 years old, you assume you have only reached the midpoint of your life, and it's easy to put estate planning off for years.
Of course, the problem here is that many people do not make it to the average. Disease. Car accidents. Workplace accidents. Natural disasters. Plenty of hazards take lives early, and passing away without an estate plan causes problems for the family.
Another reason people neglect to do any planning is that they feel uncomfortable. Making a will forces you to come to terms with your own mortality. You have to think about death. You have to admit that your own end will happen.
While this causes people to put it off because they do not want to face it, the reality is that it may actually be easier to do your estate planning when you're young. It's easier to think about eventually dying when you are still in your 40s than it is to think about it when you're 65 and it is actually getting close.
Making your plan
The reality is that everyone needs an estate plan. If you think it is time to stop putting it off, make sure you know what legal steps you need to take.