When most people turn 18, the last thing on their minds is estate planning. There are simply too many other exciting things to think about: college, careers, marriage, home-buying and freedom from parents! However, 18 is the magical age when you become an adult which means you are officially responsible for the course of your own life (parents and guardians are technically off the hook). Everything you own and all of your finances are in your control.
While it may not be typical for someone to start estate planning at age 18, this is the age when you can legally do so.
What is Estate Planning?
Estate planning refers to the steps you take to protect your assets, put your medical treatment wishes in writing (in case you become incapacitated), state who you want to receive your estate after you pass away, ensure your family (including pets) is provided for, name a trusted individual to handle your affairs when you cannot do so, etc. These types of decisions may seem unnecessary for younger people to make. However, no one knows what the future holds. Life can change in an instant – even for someone as young as age 18.
We stated earlier that for adults, everything you own and all of your finances are in your control. But what happens if you are involved in a serious accident that leaves you unable to control your life – pay your bills, care for your family, etc.? If you have developed a comprehensive estate plan that includes, a will and/or a trust, medical power of attorney, financial power of attorney, living will and declaration of disposition of last remains, you can rest easier knowing that your plans will kick into action. Here are some details that you can establish in advance to protect yourself, your family and your possessions:
• Financial and/or medical power of attorney: With these documents, you designate an agent, a person to handle your financial and medical decisions for you. This person (or people) can pay your bills, ensure you receive the medical care you desire, etc.
• Living will: A document in which you can state exactly how you want to be medically treated in life-or-death situations. You may state that you do – or do not – want to be resuscitated, receive artificial feeding, be placed on life support, etc.
What Happens if You Don’t Have a Will?
If you pass away without having made a will or trust – which is referred to as dying intestate – your possessions may not be distributed in the manner you desire. You can create a will at as young of an age as 18 to state exactly who you want to receive your estate. Without a will or trust, your probate assets will be distributed pursuant to the laws of intestacy. If you want your best friend or distant cousin to receive certain items, the laws of intestacy would not provide for these people, and your assets would likely go to more immediate family members instead.
As part of a comprehensive estate plan, you can also make organ donation decisions, memorial service/burial/cremation decisions, name an executor to carry out your wishes and much more. No one wants to think about these things, but spending a little time doing so will provide your loved ones a safety net in the event the unthinkable should happen.
The bottom line: You can legally make an estate plan at age 18, but not everyone does it that early. In answer to the question, “When should you start estate planning?” the answer is right now. You don’t have to wait for a huge life change to occur (like buying a house, getting married, having/adopting a child or inheriting a large estate). The sooner you create an estate plan, the better – for everyone involved.
Remember: Estate planning is an ongoing task. You will need to review your decisions often and make changes as you move through major life changes.
To help you understand how to create these types of legally-binding documents, you may wish to get help from a professional. The Denver estate planning lawyers at Brown & Crona, LLC can help you create estate documents in Denver. It’s never too early to put these “peace of mind” documents in place. Contact us at (303) 339-3750 or send us a message online to meet with our experts.