“Live each day as if it were your last–and someday you’ll be right.” That’s a funny and apt sentiment from writer/director Woody Allen. Embrace life, enjoy it! But there is also a very somber note to it: we all will die one day. Are you prepared?

Let’s face it, it’s not a pleasant topic. And we all hope for, and probably will get, a long and happy life. But if you are not prepared for the eventuality of death, you will leave your family with much more than memories: you will leave them with a probate hassle and a lot of lawyer’s fees.

Dying without a will

If someone dies without a will, the estate is processed through the court system and follows what is called, “the right of representation.” What that means is that the courts will follow a general rule for asset distribution, which follows a simple theme: go down, then up, then out.

Sounds complicated

It sounds a little convoluted, but the basic premise is this: any assets you have will first go to your children. If you have no children, your assets will be divided between your parents. If your parents have passed, your assets will be distributed among your siblings. This is a very basic explanation of the right of representation. Courts actually follow a “family tree” that can determine who would inherit, including cousins, nieces or nephews and even more distant relatives.

Maybe you don’t have much in the way of assets, and you don’t particularly care who gets your car or computer. But think again, even dealing with closing bank accounts and distributing small 401k savings can become costly if you die “intestate”–the legal word for dying without a will.

Preparing for every eventuality

You may be young and not have much now, or you may be just starting to acquire some assets. Whether that is the case, or you are someone with kids and a spouse who just hasn’t gotten around to it, preparing your estate before you die is that kindest thing you can do for your family.