It's a series of documents that protect your assets, provide for your children and delineate your wishes regarding end-of-life decisions. Absent specific instructions, family members are left to guess at what you would have wanted, causing unnecessary stress and infighting.
"Estate planning is not necessarily synonymous with tax planning," said Drossman at U.S. Trust. "There are still many valid reasons to do non-tax estate planning to address property management, to protect assets and to address exactly where you stand on issues you may confront later in life, like cognitive decline or disability.
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"That's going to be a bigger issue with longer life expectancies, better medical care and the aging population," he added.
For families with minor children, a last will and testament is the most critical estate-planning document they can have, said Mendels at Creative Financial Concepts.
"If you have young children, you need a will," he said. "It's not about the money. You need to name a guardian for your children, in case something happens to you and your spouse."
It can also be used to set up trusts for any property your child will inherit and to name a trustee to handle the property until your child reaches the age you specify.