When people think about estate planning, they often think about it as being something relevant and important for seniors or people who are "established" in their lives, with homes they own, spouses and children. This isn't a complete picture of the reality of estate planning. The truth is that, given all the important things that a complete estate plan will do, and can do, most people of just about any age can benefit from planning and should pursue getting a plan right away.
Many younger people (and some older ones) may look at their life circumstances and conclude that they don't need an estate plan. They may say, "I'm single, have no kids and rent a 1-bedroom apartment. I don't even have a retirement account yet. Why do I need an estate plan?" Even if you don't have a spouse or children or even a home that you own, there are still lots of reasons why an estate plan could be vitally important. Below are just a few examples of ways that a plan can be essential to your goals:
- You have "digital" assets. Some people, including an increasing number of younger "millennials," may live a significant portion of their lives - maybe even the majority of their lives - online. They may have a job where they telecommute using email and Skype. Away from work, they may socialize and fellowship with friends and family with email, Facetime, Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Instragram and other types of social media. They may do their banking online and pay bills online. Anyone with even a small online presence (and especially those with large set of online accounts,) should be very cognizant of estate planning. A full and comprehensive estate plan, including a plan for your digital assets, can allow you make sure the person you choose to manage your financial affairs can access your online accounts, as well as making sure the people you desire can easily and seamlessly access your other online accounts, in order to engage in necessary communication with both personal and professional contacts alike.
- You have pets. For people of any age, including young people, pets occupy an important part of our lives. They're not just companions; they're part of the family. Making sure that your beloved "fur baby" has a proper home with someone you trust implicitly is likely very high on your priority list. Estate planning is the way to help make sure that your preferences are known and carried out. This is especially true if you also have money that you desire to earmark for the care of your pet after your death. The law in all 50 states now allows for "pet trusts" which, as the name implies, allows you to put wealth into trust for the care and benefit of your pet. Any person who has a cherished pet — but especially those with animals who have more specialized needs (like, for example, horse owners) - should take the time to get an estate plan without delay.
- You have collectibles. Some young people enjoy maintaining collections. Maybe yours is comic books, vinyl records or vintage toys. If you don't have an estate plan, then all of your possessions will pass according to your state's intestacy laws. If you're single, in many states, that could mean everything goes to your parents. While your mom and dad might not have any interest in, or use for, your set of Supergirl and Wonder Woman comic books, maybe your old college roommate would love to have them. With a proper estate plan, you can make sure that your favorite collections go to people who will continue to cherish them, not just box them up and take them to Goodwill.
These are but a few example of how, even if you are just starting out in life, an estate plan is important. Even without a spouse, children or a house, chances are you have things, whether they're alive or inanimate, tangible or virtual, that matter to you. With an estate plan, you can take control to ensure that your vision for all of those things is realized, and not just left to some corporate or governmental bureaucracy to decide.