New Survey Results: More than Half of Adult Americans Still Without a Will

The Chicago Tribune published a story this weekend on new survey results which indicate, yet again, that many residents are taking big risks with a lack of even basic estate planning. A new Harris Interactive phone survey has found that more than half of adults still do not have a will, let along more sophisticated and helpful planning tools like trusts. The numbers are much starker for young residents. A staggering 92% of those under thirty five years old admit that they have not conducted any estate planning at all.

Interestingly, these figures actually represent slight increases in the number of residents taking the time to ensure estate and tax planning. However, there obviously remains much room for improvement. Each New York estate planning attorney at our firm continues to share information with local community members on the necessity of this planning, regardless of age or income. There is simply too much at risk to do otherwise. Those risks are maximized when one has children, substantial assets, or other special circumstances.

At the very least, all community members should have a will, durable power of attorney, and healthcare proxy. These basic documents ensure that assets are distributed as desired, financial decisions can be made in case of incapacitation, and a specific individual is named to make medical decisions on one’s behalf if necessary.

Beyond those basics, many families have much to gain from conducting a bit more sophisticated planning–particularly via use of trusts. There are a wide range of trusts, each serving as a different tool depending on one’s family situation and goals. In general, trusts provide residents the ability to keep the inheritance process private, make it automatic (without the need to go to court), and tailor the inheritance to meet one’s desires. For individuals with substantial assets that might trigger estate tax costs, various arrangements (including trusts) can be used to save on taxes and ultimately pass on more assets to your family, instead of losing it to the government.

The first step is always to visit with a professional to have the plan created in the first place. On top of that, it is vital to maintain a good relationship with your planning professional, because the plan should be actively monitored and updated when necessary to account for major life events. Marriages, divorces, the birth of new children, the acquisition of new assets, and similar events often require modification of legal documents. That is why our New York estate planning lawyers include lifetime tracking of every client’s plan, including individual tri-annual reviews.

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