I have worked in the financial services industry with life insurance products and estate planning for over 25 years, and in that time, I have had the opportunity to help many families file policy claims as they settle the estates of loved ones. I have seen first-hand the importance of the deceased having a financial plan in place for their families, just as I have helped others navigate the difficulties of not having a secure financial strategy to build on.
Despite common misconceptions, you do not need to be old and rich to create an estate plan. The fact is that no matter how young you are or modest your financial footprint, it pays to start early and plan in stages rather than waiting until it’s too late or too overwhelming after an emergency.
Consider if you’re in your:
20s – 30s (Young Adult)
You may have your first or second job, no children, possibly a new apartment, and are working to pay down college debt. You are not too young to consider estate planning.
- Designate the beneficiaries on any retirement plans or life insurance that you may get through your employer. Try to maximize what you contribute to your 401k. If you’re charitably inclined with no dependents, you can name a charity as a beneficiary as well!
- Consider some basic estate planning documents. At the very least, make sure to designate a health care proxy. This is a document that names a person you select to make medical decisions for you in the event you can’t make them for yourself. Create a Will that outlines how you want any assets distributed after your death and allows you to choose an executor who is responsible for carrying out those instructions.
- Create a list of your digital assets as well. This includes online banking and bill paying accounts, email accounts, social media accounts, and anything else that someone may need in order to settle things for you.
30s – 40s (Not So Young Adult)
You may have an established career, have gotten married/chosen a significant other, bought a car, house or other property, and have children that depend on you and your income.
- Keep the beneficiaries on your retirement plan and work-sponsored life insurance up to date.
- Create a Will that designates your durable power of attorney and health care proxy to make sure your spouse/significant other receives what they are entitled to. If you have children—designate a legal guardian in case something happens to you and if you have acquired some assets, make sure that your Will also creates a Trust upon your death with someone named as trustee who you think has good financial abilities. The trustee does not have to be the same person as your guardian. One person might be better at raising your kids and another at handling financial matters.
- Explore life insurance and disability insurance options to protect your loved ones in the event of unforeseen illness, injury, or death.
50s – 60s & Beyond (Seasoned Adult)
By now, you may have faced major changes in your wealth or health. Perhaps you have grandchildren, aging parents, or have had to face the death of a spouse or loved one.
- Revisit any existing wills, trusts, and estate plans to address evolving goals and tax consequences. Consider ways to be more tax efficient with the potential growth of your estate with the use of irrevocable trusts for life insurance and other assets for gifting.
- Check in on the financial status of your children to see if they have a need to inherit assets or if it better suits the family to skip a generation and go straight to your grandkids. Do grandchildren need college savings, investment accounts or insurance products?
- Explore long-term care insurance options for your parents OR for you and your spouse.
- Ask your parents what estate planning they have done so you can be aware of their accounts and assets and help them to prioritize any adjustments they deem necessary.
- Death of a spouse? Revisit all plans, documents, and beneficiaries.
Whatever your stage in life, estate planning should go hand in hand with your financial planning, retirement planning, and overall financial wellness. It gives you a bit of control in knowing what will happen to your assets when you are gone, no matter how modest those assets may be. Not just for the old and rich, think of it as planning to help the loved ones you leave behind if you should go too soon.
Now is the time to consider speaking with a financial advisor or estate planning attorney to design the plan that is right for you.