Virtually everybody needs an estate plan. Whether you are young or old, rich or broke, or you're somewhere in between, an estate plan can offer you substantial benefits. Even if you have no wealth, your plan can still be valuable to you, as it can help out when you cannot make decisions for yourself. Through the use of powers of attorney and living wills, you plan can make sure that your wishes are honored and your family avoids the arduous process of legal guardianship.
Authoritative journals and news media reports are full of stories that say just about “everyone needs an estate plan.” Perhaps you have even read one or more of these pieces. Despite these intelligent and persuasive arguments, maybe you remain skeptical. Possibly you've said to yourself, “I'm single and I'm broke. I have no assets to leave and nobody to leave them to, anyway.” Maybe you're young and healthy and have concluded that you have no need for an estate plan and that you will consider pursuing one once you're much older, or at least, once you've established a career, gotten married or had kids.
This type of thinking can be a major mistake. Even if your assets are minimal and you are unmarried with no kids, there are still very important reasons why you should get an estate plan drafted and executed. One of the biggest reasons is that your estate plan does more than just distribute your assets. Your estate plan, if it is a complete one can, in fact, help you out even before you die.
Anyone, whether young or old, can possibly suffer a traumatic injury that leaves them unable to make their own decisions. Sharon Kowalski, whose guardianship case went to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 1991 and was one of the first cases addressing guardianships and LGBT people, was only 27 when an accident involving a drunk driver left her paralyzed. Nancy Cruzan, whose court case was an early major one in right-to-die litigation, was only 25 when a single-car crash left her in a permanent vegetative state. Terri Schiavo, whose court case dominated news headlines in the mid 2000s, was 26 when a cardiac arrest deprived her brain of oxygen and left her in a permanent vegetative state.
If you suffer an injury due to illness or accident, and that injury leaves you unable to make decisions for yourself, there are only two ways to authorize another person to make decisions for you. One is for a person to go to court, file a legal action, obtain a hearing and persuade a judge that the law should establish a guardianship over you and that the judge should appoint a guardian to make your decisions for you. While the judge will make his/her decision based upon your best interests, if you have no estate plan, he/she will make that decision with no input from you.
The other way is a method where you have the control over who makes your decisions for you when you cannot make your own. This method entails creating an estate plan with powers of attorney. With your financial power of attorney, all of the management of all of your assets is handling by the person you have hand-picked to carry out (and, presumably, who has willingly accepted) the task of handling all of those decisions. Your healthcare power of attorney and your living will give you the opportunity to communicate with your doctors and other medical providers regarding what types of medical care and life-extending services you want… and don't want. Your documents also allow you to name the person you want (and who is willing to handle) making your medical decisions, including end-of-life ones.