First things first. Everyone who owns something and has wishes about how they age or who might benefit after they are gone needs an estate plan. Some of us make the mistake of thinking, “I don’t own that much,” or “it really isn’t an estate.” Chances are you have more assets than you realize, and if you want some control over how things are handled for you and those you love, an estate plan should be in place to ensure your family knows your wishes and how to carry them out. An estate plan goes beyond a simple will or living will, and covers such concerns as naming people you trust to speak for you if you lose capacity during life, or putting a plan in place for after your death in order to protect and manage assets for loved ones or provide security and guardianship for minor children — the list is endless, and the plan acts as your voice and intent coming through when you are no longer able to handle things.
Estate planning is not a single moment in time, as it evolves and changes over your lifetime. Your estate planning objectives in your twenties will change as significant life events arrive such as a marriage, children being born, the purchase of a home or business. Think of the planning as a dynamic process that flexes and contracts to adapt to each stage of your life.
A key life change for many individuals is when their children become adults. Just as their role in their children’s lives shifts from primary caregiver to chief cheerleader, so must their estate plans be adjusted to reflect the new and exciting landscapes.
First of all, if you have children of your own, once a child has reached the age of majority — in New Hampshire that’s 18 — unless a child has special needs, you will want to review existing documents to remove guardianship appointment provisions. You also may want to talk with your adult children about having their own planning documents in place, especially powers of attorney for health and financial matters in the event of an emergency.
Secondly, once a parent, always a parent. As your children get older, it’s just as important to meet your children where they are and tailor any inheritance planning to meet their future needs but also to recognize their strengths. Deciding how you want your estate to be distributed isn’t necessarily a simple matter of division but benefits from your carefully considering each individual’s situation and the type of assets that make up your estate. You may also want to consider what role, if any, you want an adult child to play in the future, whether it be as a medical proxy or financial agent during your lifetime, or as executor of your estate after you are gone. As children get older, you also should decide when or if you want to share your estate planning with your children — at a minimum, it may be good to let them know you have an estate plan, who your attorney is, and if you have named them to help in any way.
Finally, estate planning is just as critical for individuals who don’t have children of their own because it allows you to control who steps in during life if you need help handling medical matters or finances. In addition, regardless of whether your estate is large or small, or whether you are married and have children or not, don’t you want to be the one to decide who receives your assets after you are gone? And it’s important to remember that even if your wishes about who is named to handle things or who benefits aren’t changing, reviewing your documents over time is important to refresh your recollection about what your plan says. In addition, the laws and regulations concerning estates and taxes often change at the national or state levels, making periodic reviews even more important.
Getting an initial estate plan off the ground or adjusting your plan over time due to life changes need not be intimidating or difficult. Working with an attorney knowledgeable in estate planning matters and who cares about helping their clients consider the many variables that impact specific family arrangements is a good first step. If we can help, please get in touch.