It is very easy to put off creating an estate plan or last will. After all, the only real deadline you have for the creation of one is your death or a time when you become mentally incapacitated. However, no one knows when they may die, get into a car crash or experience a sudden medical event like a stroke that leaves them unable to declare their own wishes.

The sooner you start planning how you would like your assets distributed after your death, the greater the peace of mind you will have in living your life. It’s important to understand that while life circumstances constantly change, you can always update your estate plan to reflect your new life situation. It is better to have an estate plan or last will and not need it than to need it and not have it.

If you die without a last will, the Pennsylvania courts call all the shots

Those who die without an estate plan or last will on record will have to have their estates go through intestate succession administered by the probate courts. Intestate succession laws in Pennsylvania attempt to protect spouses and children first, although there are protections for parents, siblings and other family members under the law as well.

Typically, a spouse is entitled to the first $30,000 of your estate if you die without a last will, and then the remainder gets split between them and other surviving family members, including your parents and children. If you die without a spouse, children or other direct family members, in some circumstances, the state could actually seize your estate and claim it for itself.

The sooner you create your estate plan, the less likely it is to surprise others

Even if you have a solid estate plan or last will, it is possible for a member of your family or an heir to challenge the plan or will in certain circumstances. Feeling unhappy and surprised about the terms in the last will can lead someone to bring a challenge, which is one reason why earlier estate planning helps protect your legacy.

A challenge in probate court can drastically increase how long it takes for assets to pass to the intended recipients and reduce the overall value of the estate through the costs involved. Planning now not only protects your legacy and ensures that the people you want will receive the assets from your estate, but it will also give you the calmness that comes from knowing you have dealt with all the details for the end of your life.