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Americans are putting off basic estate planning needs

Americans aren't planning ahead—and that could be problematic for both individuals and their loved ones in the future.

According to a recent study, less than half of American adults have any kind of estate planning documents in place. Only slightly more than 40 percent have any of their wishes written down at all in a will or living trust.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, only 36 percent of parents with minor children have estate planning documents in place. That means that there's no guidance for the courts to follow when it comes to where those children should be placed or with whom should both parents die in a common accident.

That sort of shortsightedness can rip apart a family that's already in crisis over someone's death and set relatives at odds with each other over custody battles and more.

Most of those surveyed said that one of two reasons stopped them from getting their will written: procrastination or the belief that since they didn't own anything of great value that a will mattered.

It really does—along with a few other items that every adult should have, regardless of their age or relative wealth:

-- A power of attorney, which gives someone you trust the right to see that your legal and financial affairs are handled. Think it couldn't matter? Think about the possibility that an accident at the wrong time could end up making you incapable of cashing a paycheck and paying your rent—which could get you evicted before you make it out of the hospital.

-- A health care power of attorney, which gives someone the right to make decisions about your medical care if you can't. Unless you really don't care how you are left to live or die, even in a vegetative state, you can't skip this document.

-- Beneficiary designation forms need to be checked and updated so that they reflect your current desires. Otherwise, even with a will in place, the insurance company or bank will likely issue the check to the person named on the form, not the person you want to have the money.

Don't delay getting a will and other estate planning documents in place any longer. Consult an attorney about your specific needs.

Source: Wealthmanagement.com, "Americans Not Taking Estate Planning Seriously," Staff, Feb. 21, 2017

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