With the $5.12 million per person exemption from federal estate tax ($10.24 million for married couples), most of the estate planning “talk” recently has been on the planning opportunities available to affluent families. However, the need for estate planning remains for everyone.

According to a recent Forbes article, 55% of Americans do not have even a will. The article suggests the following “common sense” guidelines for determining the extent one needs an estate plan:

(1) Minor children – Everyone with minor children needs, at a minimum, to nominate guardians for their children. The author suggests the parents select “the first one that comes to mind” and “don’t over think it.”

(2) Beneficiary Designations – For those with less wealth, beneficiary designations may control how most of their property passes. But for everyone, are these designations current, and do they pass all of the property as the client desires?

(3) Home Ownership – The article recommends a trust for homes and investment property to avoid probate; and not simply adding another to title because of the numerous problems this “simple solution” creates.

(4) Affluence – Popular belief is that the current exemption means that only affluent families need concern themselves with the federal estate tax, but as the author notes, the exemption is schedule to decrease to $1 million per person at the end of 2012. What will the exemption amount be in the year of death (when it really matters)?

(5) Special Circumstances – Those with special circumstances (e.g., a special needs child, a spendthrift grandchild, charitable interests, etc.) definitely need an estate plan.

(6) And for everyone . . . Powers of Attorney – the author recognizes that everyone needs, at a minimum, financial and medical powers of attorney

Remember that estate planning is not permanent, and if circumstances change plans can be update d. But it’s better to have something in place when needed than nothing at all. The full Forbes article is available here.