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Life Lessons

Life Lessons: No spouse? No kids? No will?

When asked about the most important documents in their homes, Americans rank birth certificates and the deed to their house at the top.

Only 44 percent have a will or estate planning documents, and that includes parents who know that if they don’t leave a will after they die, the court will decide who will keep their young kids. But a will isn’t just important for those who are married with children. Those who are single and childless should also draw one up.

If you were to die tomorrow who would get your stuff? If you die without a spouse, without children and without a will, the state will determine what happens to your money, your home, your car, and your pets.

If no relatives can be found, your financial legacy will go to the state. But if you don’t want the rewards of your life’s work to fatten the pockets of court-appointed lawyers then, no matter how old you are, make a plan for your estate now.

Experts say get a lawyer to draw up your will. Internet specials for $9.99 are frequently not worth what you pay for them.

Designate beneficiaries for your retirement account, 401(k), and life insurance. Name someone you trust to sell your property, pay your taxes, and distribute your money.

If you want to leave behind a charitable legacy, most charities will help you set up a charitable trust.

And don’t forget about your pets, you can either will some money directly to the new owner, or set up a small trust that will pay for their food and care. You should look at your will once a year to be sure it's up to date.

You may have also heard of a living will. This is not the same as a will that distributes your property when you die, but it is just as important. It is a document that explains what medical care you wish to receive in the event you are incapacitated and can't speak or act for yourself. For example, if you are ever in a coma and you don’t want to have a feeding tube then you can state this in your living will. Only 26 percent of Americans have one.


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