One of the questions we frequently hear at the law firm is, “when should I start my estate planning – is there a specific age or timeframe?” Our answer is that estate planning is for everyone; it just depends on your needs. Below, we take a look at some specific estate planning items related to each stage of life.
As a Minor:
A minor is someone under the age of 18-years-old. While Georgia law allows anyone 14-years and older to create a will, estate planning for minors typically involves how they will be protected or receive designated assets, and not an estate plan to protect the minor’s assets and loved ones. One of the main issues related to minors is guardianship.
- Guardian: Guardianship is when a parent designates a person to care for their child, in the event of that parent’s permanent disability or death. There are Guardians of the Estate (those who will manage the child’s financial affairs and inheritance) and Guardians of the Person (those who care for the child). One person can serve both of those roles. If the parent dies without a will in place, or if they have a will but have not designated a guardian, the court will appoint an appropriate guardian for the minor child.
- Standby Guardian: Georgia also allows parents to name a standby guardian, which is someone who will temporarily take care of the minor child. In this circumstance, the parent is still alive – they’re just unable to take care of their child due to unforeseen circumstances, such as severe illness of temporary incapacity.
As a College Students or Young Adult:
Some people believe that if they’re young, healthy, and do not have many possessions, that estate planning shouldn’t be a priority. But this is a misconception. Yes, an estate plan is designed to protect your loved ones and your assets, but it’s also designed to protect you. There are no requirements as to how much money you have in the bank or what possessions you have.
- Power of Attorney: For college students and young adults, a power of attorney will enable another person (ex: a parent) to act on their behalf in case of an emergency like an illness or a disability. The designated person can manage the bank accounts, transfer money, pay bills, sign a lease or other legal document, help with digital assets, or get access to their grades at schhol. In other words, they can help make sure any financial or legal issues are handled while you’re unable to do so.
- Advance Directive for Healthcare: When a person turns 18-years-old, they are officially an adult. But many college students and young adults still involve their parents in their everyday medical decisions. With the Advance Directive for Healthcare, a person can list their health care preferences, so doctors will know what to do if you’re unable to communicate those wishes. People also name a Health Care Agent on this form (ex: a parent) who can speak with doctors and help make decisions about medical treatment. Without this form in place, a parent might need court approval to act on their adult child’s behalf in an emergency situation.
- Assets: While they might not be as well-off as older generations, young adults typically have more assets than they realize. Many participate in a 401(k), retirement, or life insurance plan through their work. Many young adults also own a vehicle, electronics, furniture, or jewelry. Pet ownership is also popular in this age group. An estate plan will enable young adults to decide what will happen to their assets or their pets upon permanently disability or death.
As an Growing Family
People in this stage of life are often more established in their life and career, but still working towards different financial and professional goals. An estate plan will help secure their growing family, protect their life’s work (so far), and have a plan in place in case of emergencies or unexpected events.
- Family: For an adult, one of the motivating factors for creating an estate plan is to protect their family and loved ones. With a Last Will and Testament, a parent can designate a guardian for any children under the age of 18. They can also protect their family with a life insurance policy or disability insurance.
- Personal Property: Established adults tend to have a mix of property, financial investments, and technological assets. This could include real property (ex: home, vacation home), savings and retirement accounts, vehicles (ex: car, boat), and digital assets. For estate planning purposes, they should make sure all property is titled appropriately, and the beneficiaries on their accounts are up-to-date. An estate plan should also include what happens to digital assets and accounts if the owner passes away – how to access those accounts, and who should manage them.
As Older Adults and Retirees
Thanks to recent medical advances, people are living healthier and longer lives. As older adults create a plan to maintain this high quality of life, they should also be considering an estate plan that protects their resources and their family.
- Financial Assets: For older adults, their savings and retirement accounts, plus their life insurance policies, tend to be a large percentage of their financial assets. As such, they should make sure that the beneficiary designations on these accounts and policies are updated. Also, if they already have a will, the estate executor should know where these documents are and how to access them.
- Decision-making: At this point in their lives and careers, older adults may want to begin handing off some of the decision-making responsibilities to other members of their family. A power of attorney will enable a designated person to help with financial, real estate, and other legal matters. Or, the adult may want to create a living trust in which the decision-making is equally divided between the principal and the other trustees.
- Long-Term Health Plan: Older adults should also be mindful of their future health and well-being. They should have a plan in place related to their long-term care and medical wishes. It’s important to name a Health Care Agent that is trustworthy, understands someone’s personal values, and is comfortable relaying medical wishes and end-of-life decisions. The older adult should memorialize their medical preferences in an Advance Directive and communicate their long-term health plan with their family and Health Care Agent.
Have Additional Questions? Contact the Estate Planning Team at Brian M. Douglas & Associates
Once you’ve completed your estate planning, it’s also important to make sure your documents are updated and accurate. It’s a good idea to periodically review your plan, to make sure it aligns with your current family status and wishes. If you have any questions about estate planning, or would like to schedule a consultation, please call us at (770) 933-9009 or reach out via our contact page.