8 Smart Estate Planning Steps to Die the Right Way

No one wants to think about dying. In fact, most people do not. Not planning for the inevitable future can leave your family in a legal mess, and can leave you in a undesirable situation should your health fail. The following article offers estate planning steps to ensure that your desires and wishes are carried out.

8 Smart Estate Planning Steps to Die the Right Way

Excuse #1: You’re not going to die.
Excuse #2: You’ve been too busy.
Excuse #3: You can’t stand thinking about a future that doesn’t include you.

If you’re coming up with these or other reasons for not planning for death, you’re in good — if not smart — company.

Just over one-third of Americans have a will, and fewer than half have any estate-planning documents at all, according to a 2011 survey conducted for EZLaw.com. “People don’t want to think about dying. They’re uncomfortable with the topic,” says Danielle Mayoras, coauthor with Andrew Mayoras of Trial & Heirs (Wise Circle, $20). “For that reason, they don’t do anything about estate planning.”

But making arrangements for your final days and beyond isn’t just about helping your family through difficult times. It also lets you designate representatives to make decisions about your care, withdraw money from your accounts to pay your bills and celebrate your existence in exactly the way you want — even if that means letting you take your last ride, to the cemetery, in a less-than-likely vehicle.

1. Write a will (put it in writing)

Die without a will and you let complete strangers decide how to split up your estate and raise your children. It’s called dying intestate, an act (or failure to act) that leaves the divvying-up process to state law. In lieu of a will, the court gives first dibs to a spouse and children, followed by other relatives. If you have no family, your property goes to the state. And unless you appoint a guardian for your minor kids in a legally executed will, their future will be determined by the court.

Don’t let those screw-ups happen. You can make out your own will for $70 or less at a do-it-yourself Web site, such as www.legalzoom.com. If your circumstances are at all complex, you’ll need a lawyer, who will charge about $300 to draw up a simple will and $1,000 to $3,000 for an estate plan that involves a will and a trust.

Be sure to update these documents periodically to account for major events, such as the birth of a child. If you don’t, you could create the very mess you were trying to avoid.

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