Source: Study: 6 in 10 adults lack a will, clarionledger.com
While it may not be pleasant to think about, having a will and other end-of-life documents is one of the most important gifts you can leave to your heirs. Nearly every family has nightmare stories about how someone died without making their final wishes known, leaving confusion and conflict in their wake, or having to struggle with painful decisions about when to end medical care.
While some families can get through this process amicably, others have been torn apart in the ensuing struggle for what’s left of the estate as things drag on through lengthy probate and costly settlement proceedings.
Many people don’t want to deal with the unpleasant prospect of their own deaths and remain blissfully unaware of the ramifications of dying intestate (without a will). But financial experts caution that even the youngest parents should be planning for what would happen if they were off the scene or unable to make their own decisions.
Caring.com released a study this week indicating nearly six in 10 adults (58 percent) don’t have any planning documents such as a will or living trust. And slightly more than a third of parents with kids younger than18 have these documents, which means there are a lot of young parents who might not be prepared for unexpected tragedies.
The Princeton Research study, which asked 1,003 adults about their end-of-life planning, indicates that — perhaps unsurprisingly — older people are more likely to have a will or living trust. More than 80 percent of those 72 and older have filed these documents; but for adults at the other end of the age scale (ages 18-36), just one in five has composed a will or trust.
Among the reasons given for not having done end-of-life planning: “I just haven’t gotten around to it” was the answer given by nearly half of the respondents, and nearly a third said they didn’t have much in the way of assets anyway, so they didn’t think it was important. Others likely balk at this planning because they think they can’t afford it.
“I think many Americans avoid setting up a will because they simply don’t want to think about their death,” says Texas-based financial coach Craig Dacy. “However, setting up a will not only takes care of your loved ones financially, it can save them a lot of emotional stress after you’re gone.”
A will does a lot more than just tell your kids how to divide your possessions; it can also help you designate causes you want to support; make sure your pets are taken care of; dictate what happens to your social media accounts when you die; state your wishes for your funeral and burial, and much more.
In recent years, a lot more attention has been given to medical/health care powers of attorney, and the Caring.com study bore that out. These documents will make your wishes known in the event of a health crisis in which you can’t make your own decisions. In general, more than half of U.S. adults have granted someone legal authorization to make decisions on their medical care if they are unable to do so.
Caring.com Vice President Katie Roper points out it’s not just about telling your family when to end life support; health care privacy regulations are much stricter now than in the past.
“It’s not just a concern for older people — everyone who is 18 or older should have a health care power of attorney,” Roper said. “If your college-age son or daughter, God forbid, were seriously injured in a car accident, you as the parent could not even find out they were in the hospital, let alone discuss their condition with physicians, without this document in place.”
Some legal experts have even suggested that young people write these documents before they graduate high school or college, and update them frequently. While it may not be the most pleasant thing to think about for a young person just starting out (and many young adults don’t have much in the way of money or possessions, anyway), it’s just good planning that gets them started thinking about their long-term future, and ultimately, their legacy.