Don’t let the phrase “estate planning” mislead you. Estate planning is not reserved exclusively for the wealthy who own estates. Making a plan to protect your loved ones, as well as considering who should inherit what upon one’s passing, is a responsible move for everyone involved, and it’s never too soon to begin to make that plan.
An Estate Plan is a strategic plan to protect you, your family and your assets. It involves planning for how an individual’s assets will be preserved, managed, and distributed after death. It also takes into account the management of an individual’s properties and financial obligations in the event that they become incapacitated. A lot of people have a rather simplistic view of Estate planning: They want to tell their family who gets their stuff when they die. Estate planning is much more than that. You want to think about your Estate Plan in two parts: What happens when you’re alive and what happens when you die.
Let’s start with being alive. Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, unexpected things can happen in life. Along the way there are going to be bumps in the road. A proper Estate Plan should make managing those bumps easier. In the case of a “big bump,” such as becoming ill or incapacitated, your Estate Plan should include documents that let someone you trust make legal, financial and medical decisions. Everybody eventually dies and your Will is your set of instructions as to how you want to distribute your savings, property and other assets upon your death.
There are a lot of factors to take into account when creating your Estate Plan including your age, the ages of your beneficiaries (if any,) salary, savings, assets, marital status and children. But life doesn’t stand still: salaries may increase or decrease, assets come and go, children grow and form families of their own, and laws change. When any of these major life events happen, one should re-evaluate their plan.
Beginning at the age of 18, one should have the correct documents to choose who can make healthcare, legal and financial decisions on your behalf, should you become incapacitated due to accident or illness. Whether you are beginning a new family, planning for retirement or simply concerned for a parent, spouse or loved one, scheduling a consultation with a professional will ensure your plan reflects your new future goals.
There are common misconceptions about Estate Planning and Elder Law. For example, as stated earlier, Estate Planning is not only for the wealthy. On that same note, Elder Law is only for the elderly. Expertise in Elder Law can benefit your overall estate plan to ensure that it works for you (and evolves with you) through all phases of your life.
Another misconception is that Estate Planning only impacts what happens when you die. It actually can do much for you while you are living. Foundational documents are key in the face of incapacity:
An Estate Plan should be reviewed anytime you experience a major life event (marriage, divorce, change in beneficiaries, a sale of assets, a medical event or a new diagnosis).