Estate planning is not just for the wealthy, the elderly or families with children. It’s a way to legally protect yourself and your loved ones if tragedy or death occurs. Who will make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated? Who gets the house when you die? What about paying for your children’s education?
Why Is Estate Planning Necessary?
Organizing family around tragedy is challenging to say the least; it’s uncomfortable, stressful and heartbreaking. A sound, legal document to guide the process can make an enormous difference for everyone involved. Estate planning solidifies the details of your wishes as well as helping to maintain order and stability for your loved ones.
Estate Planning Documents
There are a few main documents in an estate plan:
- Power of Attorney
- Living Will/Health Care Proxy
- Trust (not everyone will need this)
Depending on your stage of life, one or all of these items might be reasonable or expected of you. As your situation changes- marriage, assets, children- so should your estate planning. Forbes.com shares insight into the requirements for these different stages. Here are some highlights.
18 & Single: Power of Attorney, Living Will. Parents don’t automatically have control over their children’s health care, even if they are on their insurance, live at home or remain as dependents on taxes. In case of a medical emergency, make sure someone you trust can take responsibility quickly and legally with a living will or health care proxy.
Single & Employed: Power of Attorney, Living Will, Asset Beneficiaries. Make sure your assets are squared away, like 401(k) plans or other investments. You should also have prepared a living will for medical emergencies.
Married/Committed Relationship: Power of Attorney, Living Will, Will. At this stage of live, you should get everything in writing. Protect your significant other with legal documents so assets won’t be divided by law but how you want them allocated. You may also start to consider life insurance.
Parents: Power of Attorney, Living Will, Will, Life Insurance, Appoint Guardians. Parents need to do a few more adjustments to their estate plan once children enter the scene. Life insurance is important so that the family can maintain their standard of living and provide financial support for future expenses like college or job training. In the case that both parents suddenly pass away, make sure a legal guardian is named in the will.
For elders, estate planning can also ensure independence, security and a way to avoid unnecessary conflict with children while living and able to care for themselves. Take a look through ACCC’s 55+ Resource Page to learn about elder care and independence.
There are so many different circumstances and times in life. Ultimately, remember that safer is better. Take time to put the proper documentation in place. Professional legal counsel is highly advised to be sure documents are up-to-date with current state and federal laws.
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