"Intestate" is a state that you don't want to die in. Dying intestate means that you've passed on to the great beyond without leaving behind a will or trust. In such cases, your friendly state government takes over and follows strict procedures. You might have preferred to leave everything to certain relatives, but the state will follow prescribed inheritance formulas. These formulas are designed to do what's right for the average person, but they're rarely right for every person.

Dying intestate often means that not only does your estate end up in probate, but it may spend years there, as various heirs litigate. This is clearly an undesirable situation (unless you never really liked your family). To make matters worse, probate proceedings are usually a matter of public record, so any family fighting may become a matter of public knowledge. Yuck.

Have your will drawn up, even if you're not very old. For many, it costs just a few hundred dollars.

You can learn more about estate planning at this useful (but not entirely unbiased) website: Estate Planning Links. Also, check out our previous pieces on how much funerals cost, what a will can do, and how to plan your will.

And by the way, this is exactly the kind of topic that a financial advisor can help you with. Learn how to find one at our Advisor Center -- and perhaps check out our TMF Money Advisor service, which features customized independent advice from a variety of objective financial experts.