Many average Americans seem to be under the impression that they do not need an estate plan. The idea seems to be that if you do not have a palatial estate then there is no way you need an estate plan, right? Wrong. Virtually everyone has an estate when it comes to estate planning; basically, if you have property when you die, you have an estate. For someone who only owns a reclining chair and a comic book collection, not having an estate plan is not a big deal, but there are some average Americans who really should have an estate plan in place.
If you are a middle class couple and your estate has a total value somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million, then you need an estate plan. The reason for this is the estate tax. Currently, anything under $5.12 million is excluded from the estate tax, but this amount is expected to drop to around $1 million in 2013. And yes, the value of your life insurance as well as the equity in your home are included in your estate’s value.
If you are a mixed family (i.e., second marriage + step-children), then you need an estate plan. If you already have one in place then you likely need to amend that plan so your former spouse will not get your assets over your current spouse.
If you are a couple without children, you need an estate plan. Perhaps you do not need to draft a will, but you should at least consider drafting some advance directives, such as a living will.