Despite having been in this profession for almost 20 years, being in my 40s has given me a new perspective on the importance of estate planning as my friends and I make our way through life—marriages end, loved ones get sick, children go off to college, second marriages happen, life as a single person settles in.
I definitely now feel like a full-fledged adult, which gives me an appreciation for the peace of mind that comes from having a few key documents (the pieces that make up an estate plan) in place.
Bottom line: This type of planning isn’t just for the rich. It’s important for everyone. And it’s much more than just leaving money to heirs. Why?
- Life is uncertain, but having a well-documented plan helps give you some control. Designating who you want to act on your behalf if you aren’t able to do so for yourself—for financial matters, healthcare decisions, and the care of your minor children or other dependents—can make going through such a situation less stressful for all involved.
- Getting medical information about your kids becomes harder once they turn 18. Under the relatively new healthcare laws, healthcare professionals usually can’t talk to you about your children’s health issues unless you have the right agreements in place. To ensure you have access to the information you need to help them, have your children execute healthcare powers of attorney, at minimum. Living wills are useful as well. And having general (or financial) powers of attorney allows you to act on their behalf when it comes to money and other matters.
- Regardless of your net worth, you’ve worked hard to save what you have. If you have specific wishes as to whom should receive what, a will is likely your best option. I believe this is particularly true for my single clients. Dying without a will can cause your estate to be distributed according to your state’s intestate laws, which are generally designed based on a traditional family structure. I’ve seen that it’s just as important for a single person to have an estate plan as it is for a young married couple with children.
Now, I know it’s not fun to deal with these issues. But, trust me, once you’re done, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing that your affairs—whether they’re straightforward or more complicated—are in order and you’ve taken care of your loved ones.