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Not making an estate plan can be irresponsible

Studies show that only 35 to 45 percent of people in the U.S. have a will. Creating an estate plan can be uncomfortable, so many people in Michigan avoid doing so. It is understandable. Few like to contemplate their own death. Others may be worried about disappointing a potential heir by leaving him or her less than expected.

But drawing up an estate plan is very important. Whether you use a will, trust or both, it is generally preferable to take control of determining who gets what out of your estate. If you die “intestate” -- that is, without a will -- state law takes over, and your wishes may not be considered.

The first thing you need to do is make a list of your assets. This typically will include major financial assets like investments, bank accounts, retirement accounts and real estate. You may also want to include family heirlooms and other items that have sentimental value.

Once your list is complete, think about who you want to inherit your estate. Family is usually the first people to be considered, but friends or organizations could also be heirs. If you have children, you will also need to name guardians for them in case they are left without a parent.

Also, you should name someone to execute your will. It can be a friend or relative, or an attorney. Either way, the executor should be someone you trust to handle the job.

The more complex your financial situation is, the more likely you will need the help of an estate planning attorney to draft your will. He or she can advise you on how to create a plan that minimizes the taxes, and carries out your wishes.

Source: CNN, “10 steps to painless estate planning,” Martha White, March 3, 2014

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