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Why do you need a will or estate planning?

Individuals who don't have children or who don't possess a certain value in assets such as real estate or cash may believe they don't need an estate plan. According to the investment pros at Charles Schwab, anyone over the age of 18 can benefit from a personal estate plan.

Everyone has assets -- even a young college student. While those assets may not seem like much, they are meaningful to you and probably to your family. Assets don't have to be of great monetary value; some families have grieved over lost estates that included little more than photographs or letters. Without a will or other estate plan, even those personal items could fail to fall to the most appropriate friend or relative once probate concludes.

Estate planning provides you with control over all your assets after you die. Without a plan, state law or the court system will make those decisions for you. The first reason to have an estate plan or will is so you can decide who gets what items from your estate.

If you do have valuable assets, you may want to consider how those items will be passed to loved ones. Selecting a trust may protect the assets from things such as bankruptcy, lawsuits or divorce, for example. An estate plan can also name guardians for your minor children should you pass away or become unable to care for them.

Finally, an estate plan lets you dictate your wishes for end-of-life care. Naming someone you trust to make medical decisions -- and laying out some instructions for those wishes -- not only protects you during end-of-life. It also lets you have peace of mind now that your wishes will be followed if anything happens.

Source: Charles Schwab, "Why You Need an Estate Plan" Rande Spiegelman, Aug. 15, 2014

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