If you pass away, the beginning of your estate plan is your will. It helps to divide your assets among your heirs. For many, that is too basic to suit all of their needs; they also consider more complex estate planning options like trusts and powers of attorney. It's important to carefully think about all of your needs and determine what you can do, beyond a will, to address them.
That said, it's clear that the will is the first step. It's the cornerstone of the whole thing. It's where estate planning begins. Does that mean that most people have a will? Shockingly, it does not.
The truth is that most people in the United States do not have even this most basic estate planning document. A Gallup Poll found that a mere 44% of American citizens have drafted and filed a will. That report came out in 2016 and, while the numbers do shift a bit with time, the percentage is not that much different today.
This means that most people have done no estate planning at all. If you asked them, they would admit that they understand the need. At some point, it is a need for every individual in this country. Regardless of income levels, overall wealth or family size, everyone needs an estate plan. But most do not have one.
The reasons are complex, but first and foremost is the fact that most people just think they can do it later. They don't feel like they'll need it soon. If you're 40 years old, for instance, you figure you're at the halfway point of your life. Certainly you can wait a decade or two before you write a will. At least, that's what people tell themselves.
Another potential issue is that estate planning makes people uncomfortable. To admit that you need a will means admitting you will pass away. While this is an understandable feeling, creating an estate plan can actually give you peace of mind and make you feel better about the future.
Finally, some people simply are not sure where to begin. They don't know how to write a will, what to include, or how to file it. They wonder about other options -- trusts, guardianships, powers of attorney -- but don't know what they need. It seems overwhelming and so they opt to do nothing or, as noted above, to put it off for another day.
If you find yourself among the majority of people in America without a will or an estate plan, make sure you take the time to look into all of your options to put your family first.