3 in 5 Americans Have Yet to Make This Important Financial Move

When we think about planning for the future, many of us are inspired to open up an IRA or sign up for a 401(k) plan, buy life insurance, and, for the homeowners among us, make decisions related to our mortgages. And while these are all smart moves, they shouldn't necessarily trump one that's just as important: creating a will.

Surprisingly, 60% of Americans don't have a will, according to a survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Brookdale Senior Living. And that's a mistake that might really come back to haunt them.

Everyone needs a will

You might assume that you don't need a will if you're relatively young, or if you don't have a lot of wealth. But actually, it doesn't matter how old you are or how much money you have in the bank. Without a will, you'll have no say in how your assets are disbursed after your death. Even if those assets aren't substantial, chances are, you'd like to know that they're going to the right people.

And the term "assets" in this case doesn't include just cash, stocks, or other investments you have. It covers things like personal items, furniture, and everything else you've accumulated in your lifetime.

Furthermore, if you have minor children, you need a will to dictate who will be charged with their care in the event of your untimely passing. Without a designated guardian, who knows where they might wind up? And if you have pets, your will can provide for their care, too.

Age doesn't matter

You may be inclined to put off writing up a will until you're older, but the sad reality is that you never know when you might get sick or fall victim to a tragic accident. That could happen at age 25, 35, or 65 -- there's no way to predict these things, and so it really doesn't pay to put off what, in most cases, is actually a simple process.

A will won't break the bank

If your estate isn't complicated, hiring an attorney to create a will could cost you just a few hundred dollars and take a couple of hours or less. Usually, you'll be asked to submit some information about your dependents, pets, and assets, as well as any beneficiaries or designated caregivers for your children and pets. If you'd rather save a little money, you can purchase software that lets you create a will yourself. But in many cases, you're better off working with a lawyer, as he or she can advise on how to put together that document in a way that addresses any points of concern you have.

Don't put it off

It's extremely unsettling to think about passing away, and it's that discomfort more so than money that drives many people to avoid dealing with a will. But think about it this way: Having a will can give you peace of mind that you won't get elsewhere. Besides, once you create a will, you won't need to revisit that document unless something major changes in terms of your family or estate. (For example, if you have another child, you'll need to update your will.)

One final thing: Wills don't get filed in court or anything like that, so once you have a will, be sure to store it in a secure place and make the most important people in your life aware that it exists. A good bet is to purchase a waterproof/fireproof safe, which you can get for under $100, store your will at home, and email the combination to trusted sources. Other options include keeping your will on file at your attorney's office, or storing it in a safe deposit box at your bank. The key is to make sure that document is accessible to the people in your life who may one day be responsible for carrying out its terms.

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Maurie Backman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.