Estate Planning Considerations for Every Stage of Life

In life, there are many important milestones. For many people this list of milestones includes graduations, marriage, children, opening a business, and retiring. As we move through life, it is important to plan for the next step as well as to plan for the unexpected.

For some people, especially younger families, estate planning is much like an insurance policy – hopefully it isn’t needed, but it is comforting to have in place. For others, estate plans are made with specific goals in mind, such as to ensure the smooth transition of a business, protect family members from creditors, or minimize tax consequences.

Here are important estate planning-related projects to consider at various points of life:

Adulthood. For most 18-year-olds, estate planning may literally be the last thing on their mind. But it’s important to remember that the parents don’t have all the control anymore, especially in regards to medical care and bank accounts. All new adults should have at least a general power of attorney and health care directives to allow others to step in if something happens. This could be as small as allowing Mom or Dad to talk to the doctor during a medical visit or assist with bill payments. A simple will should also be considered, particularly if assets are to pass directly to siblings or unmarried significant others and bypass parents or other close family.

Marriage. Marriage is both the uniting of two people and often the uniting of assets. Estate planning documents for newlyweds should be updated for each spouse to merge estate plans and account for the new spouse as a joint owner, primary beneficiary, and fiduciary. It’s also important to update beneficiary designations to name the new spouse or a trust and remove other family members. Marriage is also a good time to start keeping a list of all assets that someone owns.

Children. This is perhaps the most important time to create or update an estate plan.. Choosing guardians to name in an estate plan is a decision that should be given significant consideration. Also consider a revocable trust for seamless transfer and ongoing administration of the family’s assets in a way that most benefits the children and other family members. These wills and trusts are often simple and not too expensive to create.

Business Planning. All business owners should consider estate planning as part of their business planning, whether through individual estate planning or built-in provisions in company agreements. If the unexpected ever does happen, the business and the owner’s family will be better off because of this planning. At the least, business interests should be directed to transfer outside of probate, allowing an efficient transition of the business to desirable parties without the burdens or dangers of a probate estate administration.

Divorce. Nearly half of today’s marriages end in divorce. The post-divorce period is a good time to recalibrate an estate plan to remove the ex-spouse (if desired) and plan for new or expedited beneficiaries and fiduciaries. It’s also important for divorced individuals to thoroughly account for all assets to be sure beneficiary designations and other controlling on-death vehicles are updated.

Retirement. Immediately pre- or post-retirement is another ideal time to recalibrate an estate plan. Life has generally slowed down some, and kids are grown and more able to help make informed decisions about the transfer of assets. Children may also play a role as fiduciaries themselves and may now be in the best position to assist with financial or medical matters. Now that the type and amount of assets held and likely to be held by someone is also clearer than ever before, more targeted estate and income tax planning is practical.

Regardless of where you are in your life, you should have an up-to-date estate plan. Contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC, 708-482-7090 or