Legal issues that impact financial security include topics such as: property ownership, estate planning, advance directives for health care, and guardianship for minor children.
Many Americans die without a will or advanced health directives. According to the United Way (American Bar Association, 2004), approximately 60% of Americans die without a will. Only 42% of adult Americans possess a will and 21% of the respondents have created a trust. Forty-six percent of White Americans have a will while 28% of African-Americans and 20% of Hispanic-Americans possess wills (Martindale-Hubbell, 2004). Recent research conducted by AARP (2000), found that among Americans age 50 and older, 60 percent have a will, 45 percent have a durable power of attorney, and 23 percent have a living trust. However, 36 percent of Americans in this age group have none of these legal documents and only 17 percent have all three.
While research is limited regarding estate planning and behavior associated with preparing important legal documents, several factors are often cited for the lack of preparation. Many people believe that property will pass on to their heirs under state law in a manner they would like. Some just never get around to making specific legal arrangements to protect their survivors. Other reasons frequently mentioned include: believing that assets are not large enough to warrant transfer tax liability; thinking that estate planning is not important for young adults; concern about the costs of preparing wills and important documents; and discomfort in discussing end-of-life issues with family members.
For additional background and research related to financial security in later life, visit the Financial Security in Later Life Website at http://www.csrees.usda.gov/fsll. Select ‘Tools for Educator’ and then go to ‘Background and Supporting Research’.
To complete the online, interactive program, Legally Secure Your Financial Future, go to the Learning Lessons and select that program.