Straight Talk

You don’t have to be wealthy to put this estate plan into place

Key Points
  • Rich people aren’t the only ones who need a will. Without this legal document your state’s laws will govern how your assets are distributed.
  • Families with young children can add a clause naming a guardian in the event you and your spouse are unable to provide care.
Setting up a trust

You may not know it, but you're already born with an estate plan. It just might not be the right one for you.

"If you die without a will, it's not the end of the world, but we'd prefer that you take care of this in advance," said certified financial planner Douglas Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York.

Here's why you don't have to be a millionaire in order to have a will.

Intestacy laws

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All states have a framework that dictates how your cash and belongings ought to be distributed when you die. These are known as intestacy laws.

Generally, under these laws your estate will pass to your closest living relative: your spouse, your kids, your parents and your siblings.

These laws also state how assets are divided among your family members: In New York, for instance, your surviving spouse gets half of the balance and your kids get everything else.

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But maybe that's not what you want. That's why you need a will.

"Having a will is important because it basically tells you where your stuff is going to go when you die," Boneparth said.

You should also be aware of who you name as the recipient of your retirement accounts and life insurance. Your will won't override your beneficiary designations.

Protecting minors

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Wills are especially important to families with young children.

Head off conflict between relatives by adding a clause that will name a guardian for your child in the event you and your spouse are unable to provide care.

The total package

Two more documents you'll need in order to get your basic estate plan in order are the power of attorney and your medical directives.

The person to whom you grant power of attorney will oversee your finances if you're incapacitated.

Medical directives allow you to state how you prefer to receive health care in the event you are unable to communicate your wishes.

Both of these documents keep your loved ones from having to make tough decisions during a crucial time, and they ensure that your wishes are followed.

"These documents, along with a will, are a great estate-planning starter kit," said Boneparth.