There are several key elements to consider when you're planning for retirement and your future in general -- living costs, where you may want to live, debts to pay off etc.
But while it's crucial to keep track of your savings goals and your plans for life after work, most people get so focused on whether they're saving enough that they overlook one of the most important aspects of financial planning: creating a will or living trust.
If you haven't planned out this part of your financial life, you aren't alone.
A new study found that 58% of adults say they don't have a will in place. On top of that, 64% of parents with kids under the age of 18 have no formal estate plan at all.
If you don't have children and have very little in the way of assets, that may be OK for you. But in pretty much any other situation, having a will is critical.
Why you need a will
If you have children, you need a will for the simple fact that if you don't have one, the state would decide who raises your kids if something were to happen to you.
If there's no document with written directive from you, that's just how it goes.
If you don't have kids but you are married -- and don't have a will in place -- the state would decide how your money is allocated if something were to happen to you.
The same holds true if you and a partner are living together and aren't married. In many cases, your partner will not be considered to inherit your estate unless you put it in writing.
Celebrity deaths are a frequent catalyst that thrust wills into the spotlight. Back in April 2016, pop artist Prince died without a will. That left his family appealing to the Minnesota state courts to figure out who would get to inherit what from his multi-million dollar estate.
The truth behind some common misconceptions
Won't my spouse automatically get everything I have?
One of the biggest misconceptions that causes people to ignore putting a will in place is this assumption: "Won't my spouse automatically get everything I have?"
No. It doesn't always work like that -- and it actually depends on the type of assets you leave behind and laws in your state.
When you die without a will, or what's called "intestate" to the legal types, the state decides who gets what.
For example, below is how it works in Georgia, Clark's home state. This is a quote from Nolo.com, which in addition to offering will preparation is a great free resource for all things legal:
"In Georgia, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants -- children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. If you don’t, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. If you do, they and your spouse will share your intestate property equally, except that your spouse’s share cannot be less than 1/3."
Of course, the specifics are different in every state. But in general, the state decides who gets what, often by statute done by the state legislature.
Won't it be too expensive and take a long time to do a will?
Some people use the excuse that doing a will is too complicated and too expensive for them to undertake.
You can get a simple will in place in about 15 minutes using the WillMaker software ($55) from Nolo.com. If you don't like WillMaker, LegalZoom.com ($69) would be another way to get it done on the cheap.
If you have a complicated life — maybe you own your own business, have built up a lot of assets or you have a blended family — you probably won't want to go the online self-prepared route. You'll likely need to go see a lawyer who specializes in wills, estates and trusts.
But for everybody else, doing it online yourself is a viable option. If you get confused along the way as you're doing your will online, you may need to stop and see a lawyer.
The reality is, these online services do a great job of asking interactive questions to guide you through the will completion process. But if you want to just push through for peace of mind, it is much cheaper to have a lawyer review the will you've self-prepared than to have them actually prepare one for you from scratch.
Lawyers may get upset with the idea of you doing a will online because they think about every disaster that's ever happened when people have self-prepared a will. But the biggest disaster is not having a will at all.
Don't leave the future of your heirs in someone else's hands! Get a will in place today.
Read more: Are POLST forms the new living wills?