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    Has estate planning been on your mind lately? Congratulations, you’ve already got the edge on over half of adults over 55. That’s right. Despite there being a widely-held belief among this age group that you should complete your estate planning documents, including a will, by the age of 50, most haven’t even started yet. Whether you’ve been procrastinating because you aren’t sure where to start or have just hit a new milestone that inspired your desire to plan, it’s important to read up on your estate planning options before committing.

    What is a Will Anyway?

    You’ve probably seen plenty of movies and television shows where tearful family members read over the contents of a deceased loved one’s will, secretly hoping to be bequeathed the family fortune. That’s only half the story, though. While wills do provide the opportunity to distribute your assets and belongings to your loved ones, they also allow for other conveniences that could make your estate a little easier to handle.

    Wills are not set in stone. As life events occur — like births, deaths, or divorces – you can update them, allowing you to add inheritors or disinherit others who may no longer be around. In fact, your assets are free to go to whomever you wish – family, friends, charities, or other institutions. Courts also use wills to determine what happens to your minor children. Without a will, the court must choose the best place for a child, which may not always be where you had in mind. Once you’ve distributed all the assets in a will, probate court may subtract the value of those assets from estate tax, ensuring more of your assets go to your family and not the courts.

    Overall, a will is a legal document that can make the handling of your estate significantly more straightforward for your family and the courts since you’ve already made the hard decisions for them.

    Do I Need a Will?

    Only your legal document assistant or attorney can recommend whether your particular situation demands a will. Not everyone will find this form of estate planning effective.

    Some people may find that a trust is more beneficial to their circumstances. While wills become active upon a person’s death, trusts are active the day they are created, and a death is not required to begin distribution of assets.

    In certain situations, it may make the most sense to have both a will and trust. While you may find a will is not for you, it is always a good idea to have some sort of estate planning document in place that distributes your property.

    What Else is There to Estate Planning?

    Estate planning doesn’t end with a will or trust. It encompasses all your end-of-life needs as well. Wills and trusts are extremely beneficial for those who you leave behind, but if you are alive and unable to express your wishes, you’ll need to find some other way to achieve your goals.

    Most often, a full estate planning package includes a will or trust, health directive, and a power of attorney. Health directives provide instruction on how you should be cared for if you cannot express that yourself and who should make health decisions on your behalf. Meanwhile, a power of attorney applies to legal decisions. Sometimes, a power of attorney may overlap with a health directive. You should decide if you need one or both with your LDA or attorney.