NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Most consumers don't have even a basic estate planning strategy, and what's worse, appear indifferent about getting one.
Figures from RocketLawyer.com show that last year 64% of American adults didn't have a will, up 12% from 2011, with 57% saying they don't have one because "they just haven't gotten around to making one."
Not having a will or other basic estate planning tools in place when you die can cause huge problems.
Exhibit A is the estate of actor and comedian Robin Williams, who died last year with an estate plan — but not one that prevented a legal battle between the actor's wife and children.
"The problem with the Robin Williams estate is that wasn't specific enough about which items go to which people," says Joshua Rockwell, investment communications director at Falls Church, Va.-based Azzad Asset Management. "For example, you can't just say that 'all tangible personal property is to be divided equally among my kids' because the question arises as to who gets the emerald necklace and who gets the Persian rug."One way out of that mess is to be creatively direct about what who gets what in a will.
"We had one client who wanted specific pieces of jewelry to go to specific children, because she wanted to be fair and to maintain the sentimental value the pieces had. So she took pictures of each piece and labeled which pieces go to which child," Rockwell says.
Not being clear is just one common mistake Americans make in estate planning.
One of the bigger problems is failure to change your designated beneficiary on a IRA or 401(k) plan to your new spouse, says Peter Blatt, president of Blatt Financial Group in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. "Here in Florida, if you fail to leave at least 30% to your surviving spouse — even if you are married for only one day — then she or he can make a claim on your assets."