Estate planning and probate issues are often misunderstood. For example, many people believe that estate planning is important only for extremely wealthy people, but that isn’t true.

You can benefit by taking steps now to plan for retirement, pass property down to heirs and ensure that safeguards are in place to prevent confusion and family conflict after you are gone. The key is to develop a plan that matches your specific circumstances.

Drafting an enforceable will is an important first step.

One recent survey found that six out of 10 American adults have not drafted a will or created a living trust. While Baby Boomers are more likely to have drafted estate planning documents, many seniors still have not — or they don’t have the full range of customized documents for a complete estate plan.

Keep in mind, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state probate laws — and not necessarily as you would wish. Also, the probate process can be costly and time-consuming, so it’s best to take matters into your own hands and draft your will as soon as possible, and preferably with the help of an attorney. An elder law and estate planning attorney can help ensure that your will clearly reflects your wishes and is legally enforceable.

In addition to your will, consider the benefits of an asset protection trust.

Have you assigned powers of attorney?

There are two types of power of attorney — financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney. The documents allow you to name someone to make important decisions on your behalf in the event that you become incapacitated and are not able to make sound decisions on your own.

You can assign financial and medical powers of attorney to one person, or you can divide the powers between more than one person. By assigning powers of attorney, you can clarify your wishes with regard to your finances and medical care, as well as ensure that someone you trust can make important decisions in accordance with your wishes.

In many cases, when someone has not assigned powers of attorney, family dynamics lead to conflict and confusion among family members. Powers of attorney can help prevent that from happening.

For more on the full range of estate planning options, including special needs planning, long-term care planning and business succession, please see our estate planning overview.