Estate Plans – How Old Do You Have to Be to Have One?

Estate Plans?

Does this describe you?  You’re 30, single, and own a condominium.  Maybe you’re in a long-term relationship.  You’ve got no kids, but a good job.  (SINK, single income no kids.)  Do you need estate planning?  You might think you’re not old enough or rich enough to need one.

Yes, it’s prudent.   First, age has little to do with it.  Life is uncertain.  One of my clients lost her 35-year-old husband suddenly when he succumbed to a heart condition.  Another client, age 30, left work early on a Friday complaining of pain.  That weekend, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

My youngest client is 20.  I have several clients in their 90s.

Second, being rich has nothing to do with it.  A Vietnam veteran left this world with under $40,000 of net worth.  He had no immediate family.  Without a plan of some sort, his estate plan would be a complete mess.  Which debts get paid?  Which people or charities receive an inheritance?  Who administers his estate?

The estate is whatever you own.

Anyone with assets – real property, bank accounts, investments – has an estate.  Anyone with an estate needs a plan for distributing it when he or she passes away.

So, the first thing an estate plan does is announce to the world who gets what.  This is the distribution provision.  It can be simple.  The shortest distribution clause ever was “all to wife.”  Or it can be complex.  One elderly client with no children and a modest estate had scores of beneficiaries.  She gave her earthly belongings to nieces, nephews, friends, and qualified non-profits.

Estate plans also express parents’ intentions for their minor children’s care.  They spell out who’s in charge if the principals become incapacitated.  They put in writing the individual’s preferences for end-of-life treatment.

Estate plans can help family members avoid probate.

Thoughtful plans can reduce family squabbles or legal challenges, regardless of the age of the decedent.

How to get started.  To prepare for a meeting with an estate planner, advisors traditionally recommend that the client prepare an inventory of assets and collect all account statements.

At our firm, we don’t burden clients with a lot of homework.  We generally ask the client to prepare the following before his or her first meeting:

  1. Contact information (address and telephone number) of beneficiaries.
  2. Contact information for representatives (executor, successor trustee, agent under the power of attorney).
  3. Contact information for primary physician, if any (which is inserted in the advance health care directive).

Most clients already have this information on their smart phones or in their purses!

Thanks for reading!
Author Edgar Saenz

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