The basic legal document of estate planning is a Will. In its simplest form, a Will is your Last Letter of Instruction. It contains your instructions about who will handle your affairs once you are gone and who is going to receive your estate and in what proportions. If you have minor children, a Will is the instrument by which you appoint a guardian to look after them. Numerous studies show 50% of Americans do not have a Will and have not met this most basic requirement of estate planning. As an interesting footnote, four U.S. presidents died without a Will, including Abraham Lincoln, who you will recall, was a lawyer.
Most people do not realize that if you have a Will only and no other planning, your estate must go through probate. In effect, your Will is your ticket to probate. Estate planning which uses only a Will requires attorneys, probate expenses, time delays and much more. If you do not have a Will, you have not made the most basic choice available to you. As mentioned earlier, if you have not made these choices yourself, they will be made for you by someone else.