Planning an estate can be unpleasant to think about.

Going over worst-case scenarios is usually something reserved for zombie movies or nightmares, not something anyone would consciously attend a meeting to discuss.

It might shock you to know that only 42% of adults in the U.S. have set up estate planning documents such as wills and living trusts.

One very common reason parents don’t get wills is because they cannot agree on guardians for the kids. 

Some people opt not to make a will because all their assets are in vehicles that have named beneficiaries. Other people say they don’t know who they want to name as their executor. And still others simply don’t want to think about their own demise. 

Often people think that an estate plan is only for the rich and famous and not necessary for them. Wrong answer! 

That doesn’t bode well for people who think they can just wing it. The first step is to hire a trusted attorney. 

A good estate plan usually contains the following components: a will; a revocable or irrevocable trust; a durable power of attorney; and advanced medical directives, also known as a health care proxy. 

Remember when Prince died without a will and left a $200 million estate to be settled? 

His heirs are still dealing with the drama. 

When someone dies without a will, it is said that their estate is intestate. Adjudicating an intestate estate requires probate. Probate proceedings are different in every state, but they all involve someone from the government swooping down into the deceased’s private life and disbursing the estate according to a predetermined formula set forth by the state’s Legislature. 

Probate is not a fun process and can sometimes take years for the estate to be settled. Remember that you don’t have to be wealthy to create an estate plan. 

The inconvenience of going to court and expense of hiring an attorney are nothing compared to the emotional toll that dying intestate (without a will) has on the survivors. Every day, families strain under the heavy responsibility of dealing with an unplanned estate. It should be noted that, even with the best of intentions, estates that have wills often end up in court over things that were not accounted for in the document.

Having a will isn’t good enough. It needs to be constantly updated and, if not, there can be very negative consequences. Situations change and people change. The close family friends that were once selected as guardians for your children in the past may have moved or passed away in the years since.  

It is important to remember that if there is a life-changing situation, the beneficiaries of investment accounts such as IRAs, 401(k)s and life insurance policies, etc., need to be updated. 

Just because the beneficiaries of the will are changed doesn’t automatically update the other documents.       

How often should a will be updated? 

A good rule of thumb is to revisit the instructions of the will every time a new life-change event takes place, i.e., the birth of a baby, marriage, divorce, death. Change your documents as often as your needs change. 

Re-reading the will is another worthwhile practice. It can also be updated every few years when renewing various insurance policies. 

In addition to a standard will that distributes assets to heirs, documents like a healthcare proxy and power of attorney give your loved ones the ability to do things like making important healthcare decisions and communicating with the bank or any other legal entity when someone becomes incapacitated.

It is also a smart idea to investigate prepaid funeral arrangements, so the heirs are not stuck with an unexpected bill. Additionally, any specific preparations can be made ahead of time according to the wishes of the deceased. It can often be less costly in the long run. 

Family is important, whether it’s family by birth or a chosen family of friends. Taking the initiative in planning the distribution of the estate allows you to be in charge and gives you and your family peace of mind in the future so you can enjoy your assets in the present. Coming up with a personalized and creative distribution of assets in addition to the more important job of ensuring all family members’ well-being is the most supportive and caring accommodation you can make for your loved ones.

Judy Heft is the CEO/founder of Judith Heft & Associates, a financial and lifestyle concierge celebrating 25 years in business helping people stay financially organized. She is the author of “How to Be Smart, Successful and Organized With Your Money.”