Many people in their 20s and 30s are more interested in checking off a bucket list than addressing important issues related to estate planning. Young professionals are already quite busy juggling all sorts of concerns – new jobs, new families, new home, adjusting to a new stage of life, but few include estate planning on this list. Despite the popular mantra from Ke$ha to “live like you’re going to die young”, few young adults actually anticipate the possibility of doing so. The following are a few simple steps to enable you to ease the burden on loved ones before life becomes even more complicated.
1. Who do you want to receive your stuff? Put it in writing.
Estate planning does not just involve mass amounts of money – we all have assets in some form, and they need to go somewhere when we die. Beyond real property, you have a lot of “stuff” – various bank accounts, furniture, life insurance policies, vehicles, hobby gear, jewelry, clothing, retirement accounts, pets… Without a valid will, all of your “stuff” will likely pass to the designated person under your state’s intestacy statute. If you don’t know who that may be, it’s worth finding out. For most unmarried individuals, their “stuff” will likely go to their parents, who probably won’t appreciate your snowboard as much as a good friend. Maybe you know someone could use your kitchen table, someone who your dog gets super excited to see when he/she comes over, or a roommate that you help accessorize every morning with your jewelry? Did you and brother draw straws over a piece of furniture you inherited? Take the opportunity to be thoughtful and generous towards others in your life by writing them into your will.
Nowadays, many states permit the distribution of personal property by a “personal property memorandum” that can easily be updated for gifts like this without the formality of a legal codicil. Having a valid will is a simple tool to be generous to those around you, and is a great way to exercise thinking about the needs of others.
2. Your Parents Can’t Always Make Decisions for You …
Generally, if you are over 18, your parents can’t automatically make decisions about your healthcare or handle your financial affairs if you are ever unable to without court intervention. Without simple healthcare documents like a Healthcare Power of Attorney, Financial Power of Attorney, a Living Will, and a HIPAA release, it is likely that a court proceeding will be necessary to establish legal guardianship and/or conservatorship. By having these documents, it makes your wishes known as to who you would like to serve in these important decision-making roles. Try not to add to an already complicated set of circumstances by throwing a court proceeding into the mix.
3. Have children? Name a Guardian.
Some states allow you to name a guardian for your children in a simple, separate legal document, but most provide that you can name one in your will. This is one of the most debated topics in client meetings, as it is such an important role that can greatly impact the future of your children. The guardian doesn’t necessarily have to automatically govern the inherited finances of your child, either – which many clients are concerned about. You can name a guardian to care and raise your children and a conservator of the estate to distribute funds for the child’s expenses, ensuring the funds aren’t wasted within a year or two. Better yet, you can incorporate a testamentary trust into your will for your children, and govern who is in charge and how money can be spent. If you don’t appoint a guardian, a court will do it for you, often pitting two sets of in-laws at odds with each other.
4. Check Beneficiary Designations for Accounts and Policies
Many assets such as IRAs, 401(k)s, and life insurance provide a beneficiary to automatically receive the assets upon your death. Have you checked yours lately to be sure you like where these assets will be distributed? Maybe you’ve recently married, or had children, or have become active in supporting a charitable cause. Completing a beneficiary designation form is an incredibly simple way to make a big impact in the life of someone (or something) important to you.