Getting started with estate planning can be difficult — writing a will and planning for the distribution of your assets after death can be an emotionally fraught experience. More than half of all Americans don’t have a will or plan for the distribution of their assets. While no one enjoys contemplating death, creating a solid will ensures that your friends and family understand your wishes and often reduces asset-related conflict among those left behind. There are tons of myths about estate planning that can lead you astray as you get started with the process. Below we discuss the five most prominent estate planning myths.
1. It can wait until I’m older
Anyone, no matter their age, who has assets should have a will. While states do have rules that determine who will inherit your assets after your death, having a will speeds the process and makes it easier for your heirs. A will can also reduce disagreements over sentimental objects, such as art and jewelry. Estate planning is also critical when small children are involved. A will or trust can ensure that children are properly cared for in the event of your death.
2. I don’t need estate planning — I don’t have that many things
The benefits of estate planning are not limited to the wealthy — wills and other estate planning documents can help any person — with or without assets. Estate planning can be used to create trusts to provide care for vulnerable individuals such as a child or spouse or to indicate precisely who should inherit what. Wills are particularly helpful in minimizing conflict over objects to which your loved ones might be emotionally attached.
3. I need a lawyer
While it’s often useful to consult with an attorney, particularly in cases involving the creation of trusts and the allocation of extensive assets, it’s possible to create a simple will without professional assistance. It’s best to work with an attorney if you have substantial assets or property in multiple states. Divorced individuals and those in blended families often have complex estate planning needs that are best handled by an attorney.
4. The state will take my assets if I don’t have a will
States have rules regarding inheritance. In most states, inheritance laws are relatively straightforward. In general, if you die without a will, your assets will go first to your spouse and then to your children.
5. I need a trust to avoid probate
Probate is the process through which the court ensures the proper distribution of assets in your will. Assets such as jointly-held real estate, vehicles, and accounts don’t go through probate in most states. And retirement accounts and insurance payouts typically have designated beneficiaries and are therefore usually excluded from the probate process.