This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

A recent AARP survey finds that roughly 40 percent of Baby Boomers have yet to draw up a will. That number grows to 71 percent for all Americans over the age of 34. We site procrastination, lack of incentive and expense as the top excuses, but not thinking about your own demise can really cost your loved ones.

Susan Elser plans finances for people while they live. She tries to do the same for when they die. If you die without a will, your assets go to your spouse if you have established joint ownership. Any asset not jointly owned – like a car or a piece of jewelry – could cause lengthy and stressful legal battles.

“The keys things are to decide who you would want to have the assets that you have, especially if you’re in a second marriage and you’re trying to provide for both your spouse as well as children from a previous marriage,” financial planner Susan Elser said.

She says many people don’t even think about a will until they become parents.

“While no one looks forward to planning their estate or funeral, it’s something we should all do because it can be considered a gift to your family because you’re reducing stress that would be on them at that time,” Angie Hicks said.

An estate planning attorney can offer advice and file the necessary paperwork to make sure your resources go where you want them. Elser strongly recommends that parents establish a trust that allocates inheritance at certain ages so kids don’t get too much too soon.

“Trusts are great for people that have young children, people that have a lot of wealth and they’re worried about ruining their children’s work ethic; people that have a disabled child,” Elsar said.

She says this is also the time to create a health care directive should a medical crisis leaves you unable to communicate.

“Would you want to be artificially sustained through nutrition and a respirator? It’s very important to make that decision yourself so you’re not leaving that burden to a family member to make,” Elsar said.

“You don’t need to be wealthy to need a will. Everyone should consider one because it will help just make distribution of your things – even the sentimental items – easier and alleviate stress and fighting in your family.”

Angie says to expect to pay at least $1,500 for even the most basic estate planning services, but to make sure you understand all the fees up front. She says to double-check your life insurance and retirement account beneficiaries because those will supersede whatever is written in your will.