You can't take it with you, but will you say who's supposed to get it when you're gone?
Americans are slow to spell out their final wishes or instruct their families on how they want to be cared for should they become incapacitated.
An estimated 120 million people in the United States don't have an up-to-date estate plan, according to the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils.
Upon death, that can cause uncertainty about who should act as a guardian for surviving minor children, and it can increase the potential for arguments between grown siblings on how to divide an estate.
The lack of a plan also can force heirs into a potentially lengthy and expensive court process known as probate.
"If you don't have an estate plan, the state of California has a plan for you. And it may not be what you want," said Linda Lampson, an accountant and director with Zanier Rinehart Clarke in Santa Rosa.
Valentino Sabuco, the Rohnert Park-based executive director of the association's education foundation, wants Americans to consider the difference that such planning can make.
"Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It's for everyone," Sabuco said.
Nonprofits that serve seniors echo the same views on the value of an estate plan.
"At the end of life, after you're gone, it's amazing how the family members can squabble if there's no direction," said Barbara Swary, an attorney and the director of legal services for the Council on Aging in Santa Rosa.
The potential for fighting goes beyond the division of houses, bank accounts and equities, experts said. It can include those items that hold sentimental value, including heirloom jewelry and other longtime family items.
Christina Clem, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Retired Persons, recommended that even those who want to write their own wills still take their drafts to a qualified attorney for review.
"It's something that you definitely want to make sure is done correctly," she said.
An estate plan should include a will or living trust that specifies the division of your estate and names a guardian for any minor children, experts said.
But it also should provide instructions in case you become unable to make decisions for yourself due to injury or old age. One key document, called a durable power of attorney, authorizes another person to take financial actions on your behalf, such as selling property or making investments. A second, called an advance health care directive, details your wishes for end-of-life treatment.
On the horizon is looming the issue of your digital estate: your email, social network and other cloud-based storage accounts.
"It's a totally new phenomenon that people should actually have a conversation on," Clem said.
Dr. Bruce Bragonier, a Sebastopol orthopaedic surgeon, met this week to update his own estate plan with his financial advisor, Sharon Zimmerman of Northwestern Mutual in Santa Rosa.
"Estate planning is essential to the financial foundation of the future success of my family after I'm gone," he said.
His two sons, ages 11 and 15, are part of "the future generation that I at least want to give a financial start to."
People may resist estate planning because it means thinking about death and because it requires making major decisions and finding the right professionals, experts said.
Shelters for Pawnee fire evacuees
Lower Lake High School, 9430 Lake St., Lower Lake, is the official shelter established for people evacuating from the Pawnee fire. It is equipped to handle animals.
The Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, 15900 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, is not authorized by the Office of Emergency Services but is also sheltering fire evacuees, mostly people in campers and RVs who want their animals with them.
There is an authorized Lake County animal services station in an open field at Highway 53 and Anderson Ridge Road in Lower Lake.