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Why people put off estate planning — and why they shouldn't

People have all sorts of reasons for postponing their estate planning. Unfortunately, too many people postpone it for so long that they die without any estate plan in place — even a simple will. They don't intend to, but they leave their family members with the stressful, time-consuming and often expensive task of dealing with their assets and debts in probate court.

Many people avoid putting an estate plan in place because they just don't want to think about death. Some may even believe that by planning for it, they're tempting fate. Of course, there's no avoiding it.

Others just believe that death is many years or even decades away. They're healthy, so they see no reason to think about it at the moment. Unfortunately, car crashes and other suddenly fatal events happen to people of all ages every day.

Maybe that's not how you operate. You acknowledge that you're not going to live forever and that you can never be sure when your time will be up. However, you don't believe you have enough assets to warrant an estate plan. Most Californians don't consider what they have to be an "estate." However, when you start totaling the value of everything you have — your home, bank accounts, retirement and investment accounts and jewelry and other valuables — they likely add up to more than you realize.

Another reason not to postpone putting an estate plan in place is the need to make arrangements for what will happen if you become physically and/or mentally incapacitated. What if you become seriously ill or injured and are unable to handle financial matters or make your wishes known regarding your health care? Documents like durable powers of attorney and advanced health care directives allow you to do this.

Yes, estate planning takes some time and requires contemplating a future when you won't be around. It also requires spending a little money. However, it allows you to take control of what happens to your assets, determine the legacy you want to leave and help make things a little easier for your loved ones during what will be a difficult time for them.

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