As the recent pandemic has dramatically demonstrated, planning for the unexpected can never be undertaken too soon.
Too many people mistakenly believe that to have a need for estate planning you must be old and wealthy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Once you are a mature adult, independent, and income-producing, it is time to assume the responsibilities of preparing for your future; high on the list is preparing an estate plan with a clear understanding that your plan will be revised to adapt to changing circumstances.
While adolescents commonly feel invincible, by the time most of us reach adulthood we grasp the fact that universal mortality is not just an abstract concept — it pertains to us. We begin to understand that we are no longer in the stage in which we solely depend on others, but have entered the stage in which others also depend on us. Time moves more and more quickly, as we take in the undeniable reality that the parents and older siblings, grandparents, and aunts and uncles we have relied on will begin to rely on us more and more.
It is at this life stage when, like the other rights of passage – buying or leasing a place to live or a car, thinking in terms of a career instead of just a job, possibly deciding to seek a mate and/or start a family — you should start considering how you will provide for and protect those you love. It is now that you need to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney, one with the knowledge and skill to help you construct a workable, legally binding estate plan that will keep your assets safe as they accumulate, make provisions for the care of any family members with special needs, protect your spouse and offspring, and consider the possibility that you may become incapacitated when you least expect it.
What a Strong Estate Planning Attorney Can Help You Accomplish
No matter what your age, the estate planning attorney you choose should come with excellent credentials and testimonials to his/her efficiency and personal concern. This person must be able to:
- Understand and address your individual needs
- Clarify your options
- Draft, review and file all necessary documents
- Make sure your estate plan covers all the bases
- Be ready to alter your documents as your life circumstances change
Estate planning is a process, not a one-time undertaking because your life will undoubtedly be impacted by changes in income and employment, large purchases (like a home), unexpected expenses, inheritances, marital status, children, and medical events and accidents.
Issues that Must Be Addressed Whatever Your Age
Once you recognize that the future is unpredictable, you realize that estate planning is the pathway to make that future as secure as possible, by taking into account as many scenarios as possible. With this realization comes the knowledge that you want:
- Your designated beneficiaries to inherit if anything happens to you
- Your minor children to be properly cared for if they are tragically orphaned
- Your property to be distributed as you wish
- Your assets to be protected from unnecessary taxation and creditors
- Your loved ones to avoid confusion, tension, or uncertainty as they grieve your loss
- Any family members with special needs to be provided for
- Your business succession to go smoothly
- To avoid the delays and expenses of probate (if you have a large, complex estate)
Documents that Will Serve You and Your Family Well in Various Situations
Your competent, well-trained estate planning attorney will be able to prepare any of the following documents necessary in your particular case:
Last Will and Testament (Will) — The most elemental estate planning document, your Will states how your property will be distributed after you die and names a guardian to care for any minor children. If you fail to create a Will, the probate court will intervene and make decisions that may not be in keeping with your wishes.
Durable Power of Attorney — In this document, you name a trusted person to manage your personal and business affairs in the event that you become physically or mentally incapacitated to the point that you cannot pay your bills, manage your property, or handle your investments).
Advance Health Care Directive — This document, also known as a health care proxy, is a critical planning tool if you become incapacitated. It expresses your desire for or against certain medical interventions in case you are too incapacitated to make your wishes known.
Revocable Living Trust — Also known as a living trust, this document takes away your ownership of your property but allows you to continue to manage it during your lifetime. A living trust does not have to go through probate since you no longer legally “own” your assets. By avoiding probate, setting up a living trust saves time and money. In addition, a revocable living trust maintains your privacy, since trusts, unlike wills, are not public documents.
Irrevocable Trust — An irrevocable trust, unlike a living trust, cannot be modified or altered during your lifetime, but it still avoids probate. An irrevocable trust is invaluable in establishing resources for a loved one with special needs or to plan for long-term care because it protects assets from creditors’ claims and allows the beneficiary to keep receiving government benefits like Medicaid or SSI.
Guardianship — This document allows you to establish your role as protector of a minor or an adult incapable of caring for himself/herself due to a serious injury or incapacitating physical or mental illness.
As you can see, estate planning can be as complicated as it is essential. This is why, whatever age you are, you should connect with a highly competent estate planning attorney as soon as possible. As the recent pandemic has dramatically demonstrated, planning for the unexpected can never be undertaken too soon.