When is the best time to make an estate plan?

If you’re 18 or older, it’s time to make a will. Even young adults have assets and legal interests that need protecting and directing upon death. Many children come from blended families where there are fathers and stepmothers, mothers and stepfathers, half-brothers and sisters and stepsiblings and grandparents too. If a car accident or some other unfortunate unforeseen incident is the cause of death, determining who will manage the estate and inherit assets can be a significant issue.

You might have an excuse for making an estate plan, like:

• I’m too poor.
• A simple will is all I need.
• If I leave it all to my spouse there is no need to plan further.
• My closest relative will be the children’s guardian if I die.
• An online form is less expensive than an attorney.

Once you consider the value of your car, house, life insurance and retirement, you might have more than you think. People rarely think about contingencies like wrongful death actions. And if you die without a will, you could cost your family money in bonding fees, probate costs and litigation.

Many people also mistakenly believe that a will controls everything when they die, but actually many forms of ownership trump wills, like: deeds, annuities, IRAs, life insurance, title to cars and mobile homes — even bank accounts. Prenuptial agreements, mortgages and other contracts also affect wills. Life events like moving to another state, marriage, divorce, birth of a child or adoption, and even having a beneficiary enter a nursing home or become incapacitated can have a major impact on the intents of a decedent, and require will changes.

Nothing about guardianship is automatic other than a presumption that the other parent, regardless of the ground for divorce, is fit to raise the child. Careful planning is needed to select potential guardians for children, disabled adult children and incapacitated spouses. Long-term care planning is complex and requires a professional. The earlier you plan, the better. Many families are surprised about how much they can preserve for spouses and children with proper legal planning. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. With a little thought and the help of a good attorney, your estate plan can protect your hard-earned dollars for your family and loved ones and ensure you are cared for by appropriate individuals, whom you have chosen.

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