SAN DIEGO — It’s estimated that two out of three Americans don’t have a will. Not having one can leave important decisions to a local court and your state’s laws. It can also make it more difficult for your loved ones after you pass.
Legal experts say most people fail to set up a will because it can be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation to have, but avoiding the issue can have damming consequences for your loved ones.
"These are touchy subjects for many people and many families," said Kern Singh, a California Estate Planning expert with Singh Law Firm.
In 2022, only about 33% of adults in the U.S. had a will, according to a survey from caring.com.
Singh says it’s important for families to start having a conversation.
"You want to ensure you take steps to protect your family. I tell everyone this all the time, the most important asset you have is your family, and the best gift you can leave behind is making sure they don’t go through the probate process," he said.
A local probate court must decide how to distribute your property if you die without a will.
"This process is messy, it's convoluted, and we want to avoid it at all costs," added Singh.
The process can take months or even years to sort out.
"The court cost and attorneys fees are set up by California statute, typically anywhere from 4-8% of fair market value. And at the end of the probate, we lose control of how assets will be distributed," he said.
Even though having a will doesn’t allow you to skip probate altogether, it's a start to make the process smoother.
"A will does not help us avoid probate, and that's the unfortunate thing that people don't understand. a revocable trust is a document that assists our families with moving forward, avoiding the probate process altogether," said Singh.
Artists like Coolio, Prince, Pablo Picasso, Micheal Jackson, and more died without specifying who should inherit their money and estate.
Singh says with a will, you can choose who inherits your property and name a guardian for your children.
It can also help the family manage their digital assets, including photos, videos, and social media accounts.
Singh says the sooner you take action, the better – don’t wait until it's too late. The documents should also be reviewed and updated every few years to protect your family.
An easy way to start the conversation is to be sincere about your intentions and stress the importance and benefits to everyone affected.
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