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Do you have a will? Chances are you answered no to that question.
A new survey by FindLaw.com confirms that just over half of adult Americans don't have a will. Whether it is just a lack of planning, or an unwillingness to think about unpleasant things, most of us have not taken the time to sit down and make clear what we want to happen to the things (and even people) we care about most after we die.
Not surprisingly, younger people are even less likely to have a will, the FindLaw survey finds. Of those between the ages of 18 and 34, only one in six have a will. As we get older and more affluent however, the numbers change. For those over 55, the majority do have a will. It is also interesting to note that the numbers of people lacking a will have been remarkably consistent since FindLaw.com began measuring the prevalence of wills in 2001.
Does that mean that you only need a will if you are older, married, or have a lot of property? Not really.
A will is the basic instrument of estate planning. If you have any assets at all that you would like distributed in a certain way after your death, a will is the best way to do it. The kind of assets that need to be addressed might not be a big house, expensive jewelry, fancy cars, or other types of things we think about when we hear the word "estate." What about a locket handed down from your grandmother? Or what about a beloved pet? Instructions for who will take ownership of animal and even money set aside for its care are often included in wills.
If you have children, a will is a necessity. It's crucial for dealing with money for their care and for naming legal guardians.
State laws around wills differ and some legal requirements in one state may not exist in others. In general a will must be a witnessed document, written and signed by a person of sound mind. It is a good idea to talk to an attorney who specializes in estate planning about a will, especially if you have large or complicated assets. It may not be the discussion you look forward to the most, but you will be glad you did it.