A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that estate planning is only for the super-rich who need to dodge taxes and pass along their fortune to their kids. The opposite is actually true, in that estate planning has many more facets than tax avoidance and that even those issues are relevant for more modest families.
For example, part of creating a comprehensive estate plan is to establish an advanced care directive. This directive establishes your wishes for medical treatment if you are incapacitated and it names a health care proxy to make unforeseen choices on your behalf. Without an advanced care directive doctors must pursue every option to keep a patient alive, even if those options are expensive and painful and not what the person wants.
Another element of estate planning that matters regardless of your income level is the durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney, like a health care proxy, names a person who has the legal ability to make decisions on your behalf. The person with the durable power of attorney can manage your finances and make sure that your family and your financial obligations are taken care of during an illness or period of incapacity.
These two tools - the health care proxy and the durable power of attorney - are both examples of how estate planning goes beyond telling loved ones who gets to keep your boat. In fact, much of estate planning can be utilized to help avoid conflicts and hardship among family members and friends who disagree about your final wishes.
Source: Forbes, "Estate Planning For the Rest Of Us," Liz Davidson, Sept. 12, 2013.