Often, people think estate planning is just for those who are elderly. While the elderly certainly need estate planning, estate planning is for anyone who cares what happens to them, their stuff, or their family.
For someone who is young and healthy, estate planning may be the furthest thing from your mind. You may be thinking about how to enjoy autumn by playing in the leaves or about an upcoming ski vacation. How could you need estate planning when you have such an active lifestyle? Accidents happen, even to the young and active. In fact, accidents are the leading cause of death of young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Here’s a link to more information from the CDC.
If you die without an estate plan, your state legislature has one for you, it’s called “intestate succession.” If you’re unmarried, depending on the state, intestacy would typically result in everything going to your parents and siblings. Unless you have an estate plan, you have no say over which member of your family gets your assets or has control.
But, you’re not likely to die young, most accidents aren’t fatal. You could also be in medical need from an accident or illness. That’s what happened to Terri Schiavo, who collapsed at home at age 26. A battle between her loved ones ensued over her care. Read a history of Terri Schiavo’s case from CBS here.
In your estate plan, you can spell out who you want to make medical decisions for you if you’re not able to make them for yourself. Maybe you want your mother or father or a brother or sister to make those decisions. But, if you create an estate plan, you get to decide. Similarly, you can voice your opinion about end-of-life decisions, to avoid a situation like Terri Schiavo. It’s not likely, but wouldn’t it be easy to remove the small chance of a situation which could rip your family apart? Again, you can choose your own path.
Another part of an estate plan is a financial power of attorney, which allows someone to make financial decisions for your assets while you are alive. You could give that power to someone so they could act immediately, i.e., an “immediate” power, or the power could exist only upon your incapacity, i.e., a “springing” power. An immediate power can be useful. For example, with an immediate power, the agent you name could sell your car for you while you’re backpacking in the Rockies or traveling on a Eurail pass. If you don’t want to give anyone power over your assets while you’re still capable, perhaps the “springing” power is a better fit.
You’re an adult now and you get to decide. Whatever you decide, it’s your estate plan and you can choose whomever you want to make decisions for you and whomever you want to get your assets upon your death. Whatever you decide, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’ve planned ahead for any eventuality.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128