Why Estate Planning is Important at Any Age

For many people, estate planning is an uncomfortable thing to think about, and many people put it off for as long as they can. In my practice, I often see individuals who only attempt to prepare their estate well into their seventies and beyond. By this time in life, many of these individuals already suffer from severe illnesses, which can lead to high-pressure decision-making. This makes it hard for them to adequately make decisions regarding their estate, or even (in the case of dementia) prevent them from completing their estate planning documents at all!


The truth is that life can be unpredictable, and simple estate planning can go a long way to ensuring that a person’s wishes will be carried out, both during some of life’s most stressful events and after they have passed. Estate planning does more than simply dispose of assets in the event of an untimely passing. Few people realize that standard estate planning documents include powers of Attorney (POA) and Advanced Healthcare Directives (AHD). POAs and AHDs only apply during the lifetime of their makers and allow others to manage the affairs of their makers should they be unavailable or unwilling to make crucial decisions affecting themselves or their assets. Because these only apply during their maker’s lifetime, they are helpful at all stages of life, which is why it can be an asset to make these decisions while young and healthy. As a keynote, their maker may cancel or change these documents at any time.


A general POA is a legally binding document that allows you to give certain financial management powers to a trusted person. When filling out a POA, consider someone you trust to make decisions from managing email accounts, lawsuits, or even real estate transactions. A POA make take into effect if a person becomes legally incapacitated, if they are out of the country, or in any number of situations. Essentially, a person can give their trusted agent, under a POA, complete authority over their financial affairs, or just in one limited area, depending on their needs and wants.


Meanwhile, an AHD does exactly what it sounds like (and quite a bit more). When filling out an AHD, a person may appoint another person (and we generally recommend having at least a few back-ups) to make medically necessary decisions, should you be unable or unwilling to do so. An example I always like to use when discussing why AHD’s are important is: imagine that you are undergoing surgery, and the doctor notices a problem that could easily be fixed while he is already performing the surgery; rather than having to get your consent and go back in, an AHD would allow the doctor to discuss the problem with your healthcare agent, who can weigh the risks and give the doctor informed consent should they deem it necessary. An AHD also covers other potentially serious scenarios: it can determine your status as an organ or body donor, set rules for the handling of your remains (burial vs. cremation) in the event of your passing, put forward specific trusted individuals in the event you ever require a legal guardian, and determine what sort of treatments you will receive should you fall into a permanent coma or another state which takes your ability to make decisions for yourself.


These are difficult topics to discuss, however, they are things that many people feel very strongly about, and POAs and AHDs represent the surest and best way to ensure that your desires are carried out in critical areas. As for estate planning and wills themselves, they can also be necessary for many younger individuals. While many younger people in their twenties have relatively few assets, this is a great time to make a well-rounded decision about who will inherit any future assets and who will be your personal representatives to make these decisions on your behalf. By establishing your desires for the disposition of your estate when you are younger, you can have a solid plan to ensure your wishes are carried out. Unfortunately, we also see too many cases where death in the family can bring out long-standing disputes or lead to serious strife in families. Having a plan in place ahead of time can prevent these sorts of conflicts down the road by making your desires known and is the only way to make your wishes legally enforceable upon your passing.


Wills also allow for establishing trusts for any younger heirs or people with special needs upon your passing. By having a trust included in your will, you can make provisions to ensure that funds or assets are only given to heirs at specific ages or for specific purposes (such as education, purchasing a vehicle, or general support). Having these provisions in a trust allows you to ensure you can still take care of your heirs, no matter their age at the time of your passing.


While all of this can be complicated and stressful for many people, our experienced attorneys can help you navigate these complex issues and help remove some of the stresses that come with planning for the future of yourself and your family.


Jeremy Trimble

Associate Attorney