Most people assume that estate planning can be put off until they reach middle age. While it’s true that older individuals will be concerned about how a lifetime of assets should be distributed, there are good reasons to start the process when you are much younger.
Every adult should have a living will, which is also known as an advance directive. This document details your wishes regarding medical treatment under conditions that don’t allow you to give informed consent. (Examples include a coma or debilitating head injury.) No one likes to think about such scenarios coming to pass, but that’s no reason to avoid preparing.
Estate planning is especially important when you have children. Guardians need to be nominated for any sons and daughters who are minors. This should be done both in a will (in case of your death) and in a separate stand-alone document (in case of your incapacity). If you don’t make such arrangements, a judge will be forced to do it on your behalf, and the outcome may not be what you would have wanted. If any of your children have special needs, you can set up a Supplemental Needs Trust that allows them to receive Medicaid or SSI benefits and use the trust money for expenses that are not covered.
If your family is a blended one (in other words, the product of multiple marriages), a plan will let you specify what your current spouse and any children from a previous relationship will receive. Otherwise, your assets will be distributed to your heirs according to Florida’s laws of intestacy, which may not be in alignment with your wishes.
You can use an estate plan to ensure that the money and property you leave behind remain in the family. If your married child dies or gets divorced, their spouse could potentially receive some or all of the assets that you willed to that child. A trust can specify that in such instances, your former property goes to the grandchildren.
Do you own a business? If so, an estate plan will let you indicate who inherits it after your death. Planning may also provide your family with added financial security in the form of life insurance, with properly designated beneficiaries.
At present fewer than half of all Florida residents have an estate plan. It’s important to remember that regardless of age, everyone should plan for the future because there’s no sure way of knowing what it will bring.
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