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Why you need to have a will

Approximately half of all Americans have no estate plan -- not even a will. Many people understandably don't want to contemplate their own demise. Others assume that their family will sort things out once they're gone. Some think that they don't have enough assets to make it worthwhile.

However, by not having an estate plan, your family will have likely have to spend time and money dealing with probate during an already difficult period. Conflicts often break out over who gets what -- even relatively small assets.

If you're married to someone who doesn't want to discuss a will, there are a number of considerations to bring up that should change his or her mind. It's helpful first to make a list of all of your assets. Many people have more than they realize, particularly if they own a home.

If you have young children, it's essential to designate guardians for them. This will involve a conversation with whatever family members or friends you choose to ensure that they're able and willing to take on that responsibility.

Whether your kids are still young or grown, you should consider when and how they will receive their inheritance. Getting a substantial amount of money all at once can lead to disaster for some people. You may want to designate that they receive a certain amount every year or that it be used only for specific purposes, like higher education.

There are many reasons why you may not want to give your children an equal share of your assets. Perhaps one is more prosperous than the other. Maybe one has participated in your caregiving more than the other. It's important to determine how your assets will be bequeathed and discuss this with them so that they understand your thinking.

Determining who your trustees and powers of attorney will be is an essential part of estate planning. Most spouses designate each other. However, what if something happens to both of you? Designate secondary choices and make sure that those people are able and willing to do it.

Finally, drafting a will is a good time to talk about end-of-life care. You can make your wishes known so that the burden of these decisions doesn't fall on your loved ones. An experienced California estate planning attorney can help guide you through the entire estate planning process so that you have the necessary documents in place.

Source: TIME Magazine, "Half of Americans Don’t Have a Will. Here’s How to Fix That for Your Family," Kerri Anne Renzulli, Nov. 30, 2016

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