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Wills aren’t just for rich people

Only 1 in 3 Americans have a will or living trust in place, according to a survey of about 2,600 U.S. adults released this year by senior living referral business Caring.com. The pandemic apparently had an effect on many young adults’ views about planning for the end of life because the number of 18-to-34-year-olds with estate planning documents increased by 50% since the start of the crisis.

Howard believes the term “estate planning” makes the process seem inaccessible or irrelevant for anyone not of a certain age or with significant assets.

Indeed, 1 in 3 Americans without a will or living trust say they don’t feel like they have enough wealth to leave behind, according to the survey.

But considering your wishes earlier in life when your needs are simpler will make the process feel more natural and manageable when your life — and needs — become more complex as you age.

“This is key because too many people, over time, as they start to accumulate more assets aren’t necessarily asking themselves these questions,” says Howard. “If part of your life journey is to ask yourself these questions, it will be easier later in life to address [them].”

Patrick Hicks, general counsel and head of legal at Trust & Will in San Diego, told Caring.com that no minimum wealth level is needed to create a will or living trust, and all adults need at least a basic plan to cover their needs and the needs of the people they care about.

“Estate planning isn’t just for the rich, and it is about far more than the value of your assets,” Hicks says.

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Having a plan gives you a say after death

Vanessa Sarveswaran, vice-president of tax, retirement and estate planning at CI Global Asset Management in Montreal, adds the pandemic is a reminder that none of us know for sure if we will have a later.

Putting a will in place gives you the power to decide where everything from your savings and investments to your sentimental belongings and even your pets will go when you die.

“It is the ultimate tool to ensure that your desires are respected after your death,” says Sarveswaran. “You might make some people unhappy, but you know, it's your wishes, your desires, and the people who love you will respect that.”

While many people wait until they get married, buy a house or have children to draft a will, Sarveswaran echoes the idea that every adult needs one.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people should visit a lawyer and start the process the day they turn 18, but that scenario isn’t far off.

The process can feel quite satisfying

People with spouses often mistakenly assume everything will go to their partner if there’s no will in place, advisers say. But that’s not necessarily the case. If you die without a will, the state where you live gets control of deciding which heirs get your belongings and assets. Rules vary by state, and a portion of your money will cover court fees for the often-lengthy process.

Howard says making a plan for treasured possessions will give you a sense of satisfaction, or at least relief.

“The one thing I'd say is: Do you realize how good this will feel? Once you take this step, you'll be glad you did.”

Leaving an up-to-date record of your wishes is the kindest thing you can do for your loved ones, Sarveswaran says.

“I know we're talking about death; it’s a morbid topic,” she says. “It’s a difficult conversation to have. But really what you're doing is an act of love … it's just a way of making sure your assets go to the right person.”

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About the Author

Sigrid Forberg

Sigrid Forberg

Associate Editor

Sigrid’s is Moneywise.com's associate editor, and she has also worked as a reporter and staff writer on the Moneywise team.

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