Although there is often a progression of complexity in estate planning, this progression generally follows stages in life rather than specific ages.”
Many people decide they need an estate plan when they reach a certain age, but when an estate plan is needed is less about age than it is about stages in life, explains a recent article “Life stages dictate estate planning needs” from The News-Enterprise. Life’s stages can be broken into four groups, young with limited assets, young parents, getting close to retirement, and post-retirement life.
Every adult should have an estate plan. Without one, there is no way of determining who will take care of our financial or legal matters. If we become incapacitated or die unexpectedly, we don’t have a voice in how any property ownership is distributed after death.
The first stage of estate planning begins with a young individual with limited assets. This includes college students, people in the early years of their careers, and young couples, married or not. These people may not own real estate or substantial assets, but they need a fiduciary and beneficiary. Distribution of assets is less of a priority than provisions for life emergencies.
Once a person becomes a parent, he or she needs to protect minor children or special needs dependents. Lifetime planning is still a concern, but protecting dependents is the priority in this stage. During this time, estate planning is used to name guardians, set up trusts for children, and name a trustee to oversee the child’s inheritance, regardless of size.
Many people use revocable living trusts as a means of protecting assets for minor dependents. The revocable trust directs property to pass to the minor beneficiary in whatever way the parents deem appropriate. This is typically done so the child can receive ongoing care, until the age when parents decide the child should receive his or her inheritance. The revocable trust also maintains privacy for the family, since the trust and its contents are not part of the probated estate.
The third stage of estate planning includes people whose children are adults, or who have no children but are near retirement age. At this time, estate planning addresses different concerns, such as passing along assets to beneficiaries as smoothly as possible while minimizing taxes. The best planning strategy for this stage is often dictated by the primary type of asset.
For people with special situations, such as a beneficiary with substance abuse problems, or a person who owns multiple properties in multiple states, or someone who is concerned about the public nature of probate, trusts are a critical part of protecting assets and privacy.
For people who own a primary residence and retirement assets, an estate plan that includes a will, a power of attorney and medical power of attorney may suffice. An estate planning attorney guides each family to make recommendations that will best suit their needs.
Reference: The News-Enterprise (Aug. 25, 2020) “Life stages dictate estate planning needs”