Importance of writing a will: How much work and trouble do you want to leave behind?

It's one of the most important documents you should have, but less than half of all Americans actually have a will. If you die without one, the court will decide what happens to your money and estate.

A 2016 Gallop poll shows 44 percent of Americans have a will, which is only four in 10 people.

"You have to ask yourself how much work and how much trouble do you want to leave behind?" said Local 4 business editor Rod Meloni.

Meloni said having a will is important because it outlines for a judge in probate court your wishes.

"If you die without a will, it’s legally known as dying intestate, which means you didn't have a will, everything goes to the probate court; the probate court divvies everything up and sells it off. Prince is a classic example of this," Meloni said. "He had a huge estate and they're still fighting over that a year later after his death, and they may still be fighting over it five years from now."

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Meloni said getting a will gets you started, but also recommends having a trust because it keeps heirs out of probate court, which can cost around 15 to 20 percent of the value of your estate. Also, because it goes to probate court, it's public and anyone who wants to know your business can look it up in court records.

"You do a trust and now nobody knows because it's just between you and whoever it is you worked that out with. But in order to have a trust, you have to go to a lawyer and you have to pay money to get it all spelled out and written down," Meloni said.

If you don't like lawyers, Meloni says consider doing a holographic will.

"It's very simple.  You write down on a sheet of paper all your stuff, who you want it to go to, you say, 'This is my last will and testament,' and sign your name. In the state of Michigan, if you do that with two other adults and they sign it with you and date it, that becomes a legally binding will.  You don't have to go to the attorney to get the will," Meloni said.

Meloni also recommends good communication, keeping your valuables in a safety deposit box and telling who you want how to access it.

For more estate planning advice from Local 4 business editor Rod Meloni, check out his tips on living wills and health care advocates.

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