You can't take it with you, but will you say who's supposed to get it when you're gone?
Americans are slow to spell out their final wishes or instruct their families on how they want to be cared for should they become incapacitated.
An estimated 120 million people in the United States don't have an up-to-date estate plan, according to the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils.
Upon death, that can cause uncertainty about who should act as a guardian for surviving minor children, and it can increase the potential for arguments between grown siblings on how to divide an estate.
The lack of a plan also can force heirs into a potentially lengthy and expensive court process known as probate.
“If you don't have an estate plan, the state of California has a plan for you. And it may not be what you want,” said Linda Lampson, an accountant and director with Zanier Rinehart Clarke in Santa Rosa.
Valentino Sabuco, the Rohnert Park-based executive director of the association's education foundation, wants Americans to consider the difference that such planning can make.
“Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It's for everyone,” Sabuco said.
Nonprofits that serve seniors echo the same views on the value of an estate plan.
“At the end of life, after you're gone, it's amazing how the family members can squabble if there's no direction,” said Barbara Swary, an attorney and the director of legal services for the Council on Aging in Santa Rosa.
The potential for fighting goes beyond the division of houses, bank accounts and equities, experts said. It can include those items that hold sentimental value, including heirloom jewelry and other longtime family items.
Christina Clem, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Retired Persons, recommended that even those who want to write their own wills still take their drafts to a qualified attorney for review.