By Linda T. Cammuso
Most informed seniors have an estate plan, but what about their adult children? All too often, estate planning is perceived as a need for only the older (and wealthier) generation. However, younger people, especially those with minor children, need to have an estate plan (a will, durable power of attorney, health care proxy and possibly a trust) in place in case of a serious illness, injury or death.
A common reaction from younger adults on this topic is: “Why would I want an estate plan? My house is mortgaged and I have no money to leave to heirs. I’ll consider it later, when I’m older and well established.” This is a dangerous and faulty viewpoint.
Here are a few discussion points for you when speaking to your children:
Medical and financial emergencies can happen at any time. What would happen if you became disabled or incapacitated? Who will take care of your financial and health-care decisions? What would happen to your estate if instead of dying, you became disabled or incapacitated? It isn’t only seniors who need an estate plan — you do too. At the very least you should have a health care proxy and living will. Additionally, a durable power of attorney will allow a trusted family member or friend of your choice to manage your finances and sign legal documents for you in a disability scenario.
An estate plan protects your minor children. Without an estate plan, control of the minor’s inheritance will be taken over by a court-supervised guardian or conservator. Depending on the laws of the state where the minor lives, when the minor reaches the age of 18 or 21 all of the remaining guardianship funds will be turned over to the child. If both parents die while the children are still minors, a judge decides who will raise the children. Is that what you want for your children?
If you are thinking about marriage, a prenuptial agreement should be considered. This can protect what assets you currently have or significant assets that you expect to inherit. Although not romantic, this can safeguard your future financial situation.
If you don’t have a life insurance policy yet, it’s time. Unlike seniors, your generation can get term life insurance inexpensively. A life insurance policy provides financial security for your family if you were to die prematurely. Insurance proceeds can be used for paying off a mortgage, outstanding medical and other bills, replacing lost income and for your children’s care and education.
It is important that individuals designated in an estate plan know where to find financial records and passwords. Urge your adult children (and do this yourself) to make a list of accounts and passwords (including your computer’s password) and put that list in a safe place. And of course, no matter what your age, you should update your documents as your life situation changes.
None of us knows what the future holds. Encourage your adult children to do the “adult thing” and see an attorney to draft estate planning documents that are appropriate to them.
Linda T. Cammuso, a founding partner at Estate Preservation Law Offices and an estate planning professional, has extensive experience in estate planning, elder law and long-term care planning. She may be reached at www.estatepreservationlaw.com or by calling 508-751-5010. Archives of articles from previous issues may be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.