Death is a certainty, but many do not plan for it

Every living American will die, but more than half of them have not made adequate—or even any—preparations for that inevitable event. A recent survey by found that about 60% of Americans do not even have a basic will. In addition, about 70% do not have a living will or health care directive. Only 27% have a medical proxy and just 26% have a power of attorney for their finances. Only one in five survey participants have created a trust as part of their estate plan. “It’s a sad situation,” said attorney Alan Kopit of “Without having crucial documents like living wills and powers of attorney in place, many Americans are leaving their loved ones vulnerable to the heartache—and in some cases expense—of having to make life or death decisions that could easily have been addressed at a time when the emotional strain is not nearly so intense.”

The survey identified some of the reasons why Americans fail to plan their estates. Some 20% said they didn’t believe they had sufficient assets to warrant an estate plan. Another 15% believe they are not old enough to plan yet.Lack of planning has caused real pain for some survivors, the survey found. About 18% of those surveyed said they had problems after the incapacity or death of someone close to them due to the lack of an estate plan. Those problems included conflicts over the distribution of a deceased relative’s assets. If you love those who will have to take care of you when you become incapacitated, or who will have to clean up your affairs after you die, then you should do estate planning now.

A will, a health care proxy, and a financial power of attorney are the basic planning tools. A qualified attorney can quickly help you get these documents in order. The cost will not be overwhelming: simple estate plans should not cost more than a few hundred dollars. Parents of minor children especially should do planning as soon as possible. Their attorneys may suggest that their wills establish trusts for their children’s inheritances. No matter what, you should name personal guardians for children before you die rather than let a court do it after you are gone.

Even if you are unsure of your choices, do not wait to do planning. Wills and trusts can be amended later if your wishes change. Periodic reviews of your plan are essential.