As you’ve grown older, you’ve likely given some thought to what kind of legacy you’ll leave for your loved ones.
But a new study by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave reveals that the vast majority of people believe estate planning is crucial—yet fail to complete even the basic documents required to protect themselves and their family.
The study found that fewer than one in five people over the age of 55 had the estate-planning triumvirate of a will/trust, a health care directive and a durable power of attorney. And barely half of the 3,000 survey respondents even had a will.
You know better
More than half of survey respondents said it would be “irresponsible” to die without their affairs in order, and another 22% reported it was merely “inconsiderate.”
Is the problem that they’re too anxious to contemplate their demise? Nope. Nine in 10 participants said they were comfortable discussing end of life preferences.
“There’s this acknowledgement that this work needs to be done,” says Kevin Hindman, national trust executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Yet where’s the action step to put things into motion?”
Here are the basic guidelines to take your estate plans from theory to reality.
The docs you need
Survey participants’ biggest fears were dementia, and not being in pain at life’s end. You need documents that address those issues, as well as one that tells your heirs who gets what.
A durable power of attorney: This gives someone you appoint the ability to step in and take care of your finances if you can no longer handle it all.
A health care directive: Also called a living will, this is where you spell out your health care wishes that your family and doctors can follow if you ever become unable to speak up for what you want (and don’t want.)
A will or revocable living trust: In some states a trust can make the inheritance process faster, and potentially less expensive than having just a will. Wills typically need to be rubber-stamped in probate court: Revocable trusts don’t have to be certified in court.
To set up these documents, it’s ideal to hire a lawyer who specializes in estate planning, at the cost of about $1,000 to $2,000. But if cost is an impediment, you can create the key documents with Quicken WillMaker, ($79), or online services such as LegalZoom ($150 to $299).
Having the conversations
What may be harder: Explaining the rationale behind your decisions to your kids. “Make sure you address some of the potentially divergent expectations,” says Hindman.
One potential disconnect is on the inheritance itself. More than half of millennials think it’s a parents duty to leave an inheritance. Just 36% of their parents (boomers) share that opinion.
Not up for the convo? Then put it in a sealed “letter of wishes” that you keep with a copy of your will or trust.
You should also consider laying out what sort of funeral you want. The more details you provide, the more your family, not the funeral director, will drive the decision-making at such a vulnerable time.
Finally, keep in mind that the decisions you make today are not irrevocable: Plans can always be adjusted as your circumstances change. Says Hindman: “You have people you love, don’t leave them with a mess.”