There are many legal mechanisms to help those who die or become incapacitated without having planned ahead. However, many of these mechanisms are so inflexible and time-consuming that they inspire people to plan around them.

For example, a person who dies without a will is considered to have died intestate. This means that his or her property will be distributed according to the state’s laws of intestacy.

Generally, the state creates a “pecking order” of beneficiaries—spouse, children, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and so on. The resulting distribution plan might be okay to some people; it might be completely objectionable to others. The point is, if you die intestate, there is no choice in the matter.

Also, if a person becomes incapacitated, and has done nothing to enable his or her financial affairs to be handled by a trusted friend or family member, a court-supervised guardianship might be the only solution. Guardianships cost money to set up, they can last a long time, and they require court filings for as long as they last. While it is helpful that guardianships exist to help people in this situation, it is usually best to plan ahead so that a guardianship won’t be necessary.

These are two primary examples; there are many other reasons to plan ahead. Even a simple plan can save a great deal of trouble later on.