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Surprising numbers about wills

It's to be expected that younger generations haven't set up estate plans as thorough as senior generations. Our awareness of mortality changes with age. Considering that preconception about age, a recent study shows that a surprising amount of Americans lack wills in all demographics.

Wills, trusts and other means of estate planning aren't just a wish list for sharing your assets. They are legal documents that plan distribution while also controlling cost and displaying real life relationships.

When someone passes away without a will, their assets pass through probate court. Probate court follows well-defined Tennessee laws on how family members receive items, while a portion of assets go to the state to cover the cost.

Unexpected findings

A new Caring.com study matches the expectation that older Americans are more likely to have a will. Yet, it finds that only 81 percent of adults 72 and older have an estate plan in place. This means that roughly one in five do not.

Also surprising is that 64 percent of adults with minor children do not have a plan in place, which is higher than the overall percentage of adults without a plan in place (58 percent). Parenting without an estate plan means you have less control over what happens to your children if something happens.

Beyond the basics of estate plans

Most study participants do not plan ahead because they don't think it's worth the effort for the assets they own. This is a mistake, because an estate plan isn't just a handoff of physical property. In addition to inheritance, an estate plan can also name guardianship of children and plan for medical care if you are incapacitated.

When assets go through probate court, inheritance is defined by legal relationship. The bureaucratic measures focus on efficiency instead of the deceased's wishes. When it comes to important matters involving your children, nieces or nephews, family, friends and future generations, it's key to leave a legacy that truly reflects your relationships with them instead of trusting the law book to guess.

Estate plans can be a simple will and testament or a complex trust. There are many options that suit different individuals and all levels of income. However, all estate plans share an emphasis on meeting your unique wishes. When an estate goes to probate court, it is a procedural matter.

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