Many people think of estate planning as something to do when they’re in their senior years and ready to codify who will get their assets when they die. Unfortunately, this mindset can leave individuals – and their loved ones – unnecessarily vulnerable for a large portion of their lives.
Estate planning is something you should begin at 18 and continue throughout your life as your needs and obligations change. The following are some of the crucial elements of an estate plan that you may need to put in place now, regardless of your age, familial status and economic circumstances.
Advance directives and powers of attorney
Once a person turns 18, they’re typically legally considered an adult. That means their parents can no longer make medical decisions for them without permission. If a young person is involved in a serious accident or becomes severely ill and isn’t conscious or able to make informed decisions, their parents can’t automatically do make decisions for them, as a result.
That’s why it’s wise when a young person turns 18 to put an advance health care directive in place. In Wisconsin, this documentation is called a Declaration to Health Care Professionals and commonly known as a living will. It allows someone to list their wishes for what life-prolonging measures they do and don’t want taken if they’re no longer in a position to advocate on behalf of their own interests.
It’s also important to name a health care proxy who has your permission to talk with your medical team and make decisions for you. Those decisions will not override any instructions left in your living will. Your proxy needs to be granted power of attorney (POA) authority over your health care if you’re unable to speak for yourself.
It’s also wise to appoint someone to have POA for finances and property if you’re unable to handle them due to incapacitation. Even if you don’t have a home, investments or much else in your name yet, you may need someone to access your bank account and take care of bills and other financial obligations if you can’t.
An estate plan should evolve throughout your life
Throughout your life, as things change, you’ll add more to your estate plan. If you have a child, you’ll want to name a legal guardian in case something were to happen to you and their other parent, for example. You may want to craft a will and/or trust to address your assets. No matter what resources you utilize, however, it’s important to understand that estate planning isn’t a “one-and-done” process. It’s something that will evolve throughout your life. Having sound legal guidance from the beginning can help you rest assured that you’ve got a solid foundation in place for this process moving forward.