As the tired old saying goes, nothing’s a guarantee in life except for death and taxes. I’d add one more item to the list: things in your life will change, and often in unexpected ways.
That’s the point driven home by an article recently published in Investment News, which highlights the accidental death of 27-year old Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin as a cautionary tale for why we all need to have an estate plan in place, even in our twenties. Yelchin passed away in 2016, leaving behind a $1.4 million estate with no will, forcing his family to seek permission from the courts to become administrators of his estate.
Perhaps Yelchin, like many of us when we are young, felt like he was just beginning his adult life, and that a will was something that you worried about later.
THINK YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH STUFF TO BOTHER? THINK AGAIN.
Interestingly, it’s not necessarily a reluctance to think about death or even an “I have plenty of time for that” mentality that leads many younger people to put off estate planning. Just as often they feel as though they don’t have “enough” to put into a will: whether that be enough money, enough “stuff,” or enough family to account for in the estate planning process. In reality, however, we all have an “estate” of some sort, even before we have a house and kids.
We all have an “estate,” even before we have a house or kids—pets, property, and bank and social media accounts all need to be dealt with when a person dies.
Think about it—how many people in their early 20s own a car? How about a dog or cat? What about bank accounts, retirement plans, or social media accounts? All these are part of an estate and will need to be taken care of in the event that the owner dies or becomes permanently incapacitated (i.e., enters a persistent vegetative state). Even if the sum total of everything you own isn’t much, you still won’t want to leave loved ones to fret and spend money dealing with your belongings should something happen to you. Perhaps even more important, if an accident leaves you alive but unable to make healthcare decisions, you’ll want people to have guidelines about what to do.
As Yelchin’s untimely death demonstrates, the unexpected can happen—even in your own driveway—and the better prepared you are for the good and the bad, the better.
SO, WHEN SHOULD I MAKE MY WILL?
Ideally, the estate planning process begins as soon as you are legally independent from your parents—age 18. At first, your will may be very simple. At the very least, it should designate both a medical and financial power of attorney—those individuals who will be in charge of making decisions regarding your health and finances should you no longer be able to do so. Stating your wishes here will save your family much time and grief, not to mention spare them from potentially expensive legal proceedings. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you draw up the document fairly quickly.
START YOUR WILL EARLY AND UPDATE AS LIFE EVOLVES
Once your will is established, revisit and revise it as needed. Too often we tend to approach a will in a similar way that we do a property deed or marriage certificate—a document that’s written up, filed away, and forgotten about until it comes time for a big transition (in this case, death). But as the article emphasizes, treating a will as a “one-and-done” task can backfire.
A truly beneficial will is not drafted and set in stone, but continually updated throughout a person’s lifetime.
For example, if you have kids, you need to designate a legal guardian. Otherwise, it will be up to the courts to assign one for your children—a scary proposition. Other milestones that merit a will revision include marriage, divorce, purchase of property, starting a business, etc. In sum, a truly beneficial will is not drafted and set in stone, but continually updated throughout a person’s lifetime.
Although creating an estate plan early in your adult life is best, it’s never too late to get started. If you are one of the many who have yet to make your will, our experienced Asheville estate planning team at Craig Associates can help. We welcome you to contact us with questions or to set up a time to meet with one of our attorneys in Asheville, NC.