Death isn’t a fun subject, and, evidently, the majority of Americans aren’t too inclined to plan on who will receive what when the time comes, a study released Monday found.
Just 42 percent of American adults have a will or living trust, while just over a third of those with kids under 18 have some kind of end-of-life plan, according to a survey from the elder care advice site Caring.com. Using responses from more than 1,000 adults polled by the research firm Princeton Survey Research Associates International, the site found that the most common reason respondents avoided the legal work was because they “just haven’t gotten around to it,” followed by the rationale that they didn’t have enough to leave behind, according to Caring.com Vice President Katie Roper.
“It’s very troubling,” Roper said, referring specifically to the portion of parents of non-adult children who hadn’t planned for the inevitable. “You’re saddling people who are taking care of your kids with a huge legal headache, even as the kids are devastated.”
Roper advised adults with assets of any kind—“even if you own your car, someone’s going to get it”—to start the process immediately. Otherwise, the recipients of the deceased’s estate will be determined by state courts.
“It can take a really long time, because it’s not a top priority,” Roper said, referring to the court process. “And they may not take care of it the way you’d want.”
The state government determines who’s in charge—also known as the executor—as well as who gets what, and usually turns to spouses, children and siblings, according to legal advice site Nolo. But for those who might want to leave possessions to, say, step-children, foster children, friends, charities or a significant other two whom they’re not married, letting the government handle the issue may not be the best idea.
Legal sites like LegalZoom and Nolo offer step-by-step instructions for writing the document so that it is legally-binding, while Office Depot and Staples offer templates for between $10 and $40. Getting the document notarized, at, say, a bank of UPS Store, is generally even cheaper.
Still, Roper emphasized the importance of having a lawyer give the document a good look-over.
“You should always get a lawyer involved. You could just go to a lawyer and say, ‘Here’s my template,’” she said. “You can do it all in an hour with a visit to a lawyer.”