When Americans reach the age of 18, they are ordinarily granted automatic legal independence from their parents. As a result, they no longer have to seek permission to receive medical care or get married. They can join the military and sign contracts. Yet, legal responsibilities accompany this freedom. For example, adults of all ages are required to either have a legally-enforceable estate plan in place or risk that the state will decide how their affairs should be handled in the wake of their death.
All too often, adults wait until they have acquired relatively significant wealth or decided to become parents before engaging in estate planning. In reality, adults of all ages – regardless of familial status or economic circumstances – need to have a legally-enforceable, updated will in place at all times.
Incapacitation due to illness or injury
If you suddenly become unable to express your wishes concerning your medical care due to a severe illness or injury, you’ll want to have two estate planning resources in place to make sure that your treatment is in line with your needs and preferences:
A living will: This resource will allow you to spell out the kinds of medical treatment that you will and will not consent to in the event that you can’t make these decisions in the moment due to incapacitation.
A power of attorney: Designating someone to make decisions on your behalf that fall outside the scope of your living will can better ensure that your affairs are in order while you remain incapacitated. You can name healthcare, financial and/or general power of attorney.
Honoring your wishes after your death
If you don’t have a will in place at the time of your death, the state will determine how your assets are distributed. If you have a will in place but it isn’t current, your loved ones will have to endure the stressful process of determining your intentions absent clear guidance. A lengthy legal battle may even commence.
Regardless of your life circumstances, if you’re an adult, you need a proper, comprehensive estate plan in place at all times. There is simply too much at stake to avoid estate planning while you still can.