When it comes to estate planning, creating a will, or preparing a living trust, many people have a similar vision in their mind - it's the person on their death bed with family all around. The lawyer is standing at the bedside, and the elderly sick person is signing legal documents. People think that estate planning is something people are supposed to do when they are sick, nearly dying, or very old. While it's certainly better to prepare an estate plan than to not have anything in place, waiting till you are very old or very sick is not the ideal time to prepare an estate plan. This is not something you want to do while you don't have your wits about you. You don't want to be under duress while doing it.
So when should you start thinking about it? If you are 18 years of age or older, at the very least you should consider preparing an Advance Health Care DIrective and a Durable Power of Attorney. The former gives your named agents the authority to make health care decisions for you if you cannot. The latter allows you to name agents who can act on your behalf in most other circumstances. When my son turned 18, I had him prepare both. Once you start to get a bit older and accumulate some assets, then you might consider preparing a will or better yet, a living trust. Each of these legal tools addresses what happens with your assets if you pass away. A living trust helps in many other ways that are too broad to address in this blog post (but that information is available elsewhere on this website).
While most of my clients are in their 40s and 50s, I have many clients who are older than that and many who are younger. A good lawyer can help you figure out what estate planning tools would be appropriate for your situation. Also, with respect to each estate planning tool (living trusts, wills, etc.), there are different variations on each that you should consider. This is not a "one size fits all" solution. Of course there are commonalities, but your will, trust, etc. should address your specific situation.
As a rule of thumb, once you are at least 18 years of age, it would be good to consider a health care directive, HIPAA Authorization (allowing release of medical records), and power of attorney. As you get older, think about adding more legal tools to your war chest. It's never too early to learn how these legal tools can help protect you and your family.
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