Planning for the end of one’s life, or potential incapacity, is probably something an individual in their 20’s, 30’s, or even 40’s does not want to contemplate. Even those in their later years might find it a difficult topic to discuss. However, there are several important reasons why one should strongly consider having a Will prepared, and perhaps other estate planning documents, such as an Advance Health Care Directive or Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Management, despite their being a member of Generation X, Y, or Z. These scenarios are based on personal experience with cases handled by me and which could have been avoided with a bit of planning.
Children. If you have minor children, a Will is a tool that allows you to nominate a guardian of the person – the individual who will have the care, custody, and control of your child – and a guardian of the estate – the individual who will manage any funds your child may inherit from you or receive as a result of your death, such as life insurance benefits. If both parents die simultaneously (the most common situation being an automobile accident), their loved ones are often so grief-stricken that they let their emotions override common sense. If there is no nomination of a guardian by the parents, their surviving child or children could find themselves at the center of a bitter and contested guardianship proceeding. Usually, this involves the family of one parent having a different view than the family of the other parent on who should raise the child. Naturally, there are fears that there might be an additional loss if a child is going to live with the “in-law” rather than stay within the “core” family.
Parents can avoid this potential tug-of-war and provide much-needed guidance by giving thoughtful consideration as to whom would be best suited to take over the parenting of their child if both parents die while their child is a minor. The individual might not even be a family member. It could be their close friends with a child the same age as their child. Who would facilitate continued contact with surviving family members? Who would have the same values as the parents? With whom would the child be most comfortable? There are a number of considerations, but do not leave that to grief-stricken grandparents, aunts, or uncles. Planning now could save emotional – and financial – toll in the future.
Ability to Choose. One might think that they simply do not have enough assets to worry about who will receive those assets at their death. Take, for example, a single person with no children who has saved money and has purchased a home. That person is very close to one parent, but has long been estranged from the other parent. If that person does not have a will, the laws of intestate succession will apply and the person’s estate will be divided between both parents, even the parent with whom the individual has had no relationship for many years. Having a Will gives one the ability to choose who will receive an individual’s assets upon their death.
Incapacity Planning. Having an Advance Health Care Directive or a Durable Power of Attorney enables one to designate their selected individual to make decisions when they are unable to do so. Even college-bound adults in their teens should consider having such documents in the event of an unexpected medical event that might render them unable to give medical consent or make medical decisions. Tragedies can occur and planning in advance could avoid unnecessary delay in medical decision-making. Having such documents in place also can assist in making financial or other decisions if the individual is unable to make such decisions due to incapacity. The planning can also avoid the time and expense associated with the establishment of a conservatorship proceeding.
These three documents – a Will, an Advance Health Care Directive, and a Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Management – should be considered as smart planning tools, whatever one’s age. Proper planning now can avoid heartache and legal fees in the future.