Last month, my partners and I were fortunate enough to be featured on B103.9's Morning Show, aka “Big Momma and the Wild Bunch.” It was definitely a memorable and exciting experience. Along with the excitement of being on live radio, it also provided a valuable learning experience. To a certain extent, as an attorney, our profession naturally involves public speaking, quick thinking, and impromptu performance. It was interesting to see the best in the business, their creativity, and how they performed live. I can certainly tell why they are so popular, as I am now a regular listener of their morning show.
On the show, each of us had an opportunity to speak a little about our area of specialty and answer questions presented to us by both Big Momma and Babs. Even in a seemingly boring area like estate planning, Big Momma posed a very interesting question to me that I had not spent much time considering. He asked, “How young is too young to get a will and other planning documents?” As an attorney who spends an outsized amount of time catering to older clientele, I admittedly had not spent much time considering the question of how young you could be to start benefitting from basic estate planning documents.
After some reflection, I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject with you. As the law currently stands, you must be at least 18 years old to execute a will, power of attorney, or a health care directive. Until the age of 18, you have not reached the age of majority and do not have the legal power to contract. As a result, your parents or guardians are legally in the driver’s seat until you reach 18. Once you are 18, I believe it is useful for everyone to have at least some basic documents. For example, I believe everyone should have a durable power of attorney and health care directive. You are never too young to appoint someone to make medical decisions for you in case you are unable to do so yourself. Additionally, letting your intentions be known as to whether or not you want life sustaining medical treatment is also extremely important. I also do not believe you can be too young to benefit from a broadly drafted durable power of attorney.
As a younger man, there were plenty of times I wished I had a power of attorney so someone else could make a few phone calls on my behalf to address issues I simply did not have a lot of time for. For example, dealing with doctor’s offices and health insurance companies was one of those issues that took a lot of time. I used to hate getting those explanations of benefits in the mail because I always knew it would take a couple of hours and half a dozen phone calls to try and figure out what I was and was not being charged for. A power of attorney would have allowed someone else to assist me.
The price of a power of attorney and a health care directive is small and not prohibitive. Both documents can only help, and I do not think you can be too young to have either of them. A will, on the other hand, to an extent requires you to have something worth planning for. If I had done one at 18, my estate would have been laughable. However, once you have children and/or a couple of assets, it is certainly time to take death and estate planning more seriously. While you might still be young and your assets small, it is important to execute a nomination of guardian to appoint someone to take care of your children should something should happen to you. This will make it an easier transition for someone to come in and apply to be your child’s guardian in the event of a catastrophic and unexpected death. While I believe that a will is useful at a young age and certainly if you have children, I generally would not recommend more advanced estate planning, such as a living trust, for those in their 20s or 30s. Typically, I feel that wills are much easier and cheaper to revoke and change than trusts. If you created one in your 20s while your life is still evolving and changing, you might have a significant amount of amendments before you hit your 40s. Lots of amendments can potentially lead to confusion as to your testamentary wishes. Therefore, while you are young and your life is developing, a will is just more practical. Once you have accumulated assets and settled down, a trust will be more of a consideration.
No matter what your age, good and proper planning is recommended in both life as well as in estate planning. Basic documents should be cheap, easy and give you piece of mind, because peace of mind is a feeling that is ageless.
Contact our Fort Myers estate planning law office for a consultation.