Blogs > Your Money

Dave Patterson and Erin Preston, a father-daughter team of Certified Financial Planner® licensees, provide thoughts and suggestions on a broad collection of personal finance topics.  Information provided in this BLOG is intended to be of a general nature and may not be appropriate for all situations.  Readers should consult with their own financial advisors before relying on any information contained herein.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Too Young for an Estate Plan?

We’ve all been exposed to a young person who can’t imagine anything bad ever happening to them. They don’t use sunscreen until they have been badly burned. Only old people get skin cancer, right? They drive up behind you with the music from their CD player so loud that your car shakes. Hearing aides are for old fogies, they say! They drive in and out of traffic with reckless abandon. They drive motorcycles without wearing a helmet. They view themselves as impervious to any type of harm.

It’s understandable then, that they would never think of writing a will, let alone consider other estate planning documents. Those are for old people. Yet it may very well make sense for anyone over 18 years old to consider at least some basic estate planning: a will, a healthcare directive and power of attorney, at a minimum.

If one dies without a will (intestate), their estate will be distributed based on the law their state of domicile (jointly held assets, if any, would pass to the joint owner). Most young people have minimal assets to distribute, perhaps only a highly-valued collection of baseball cards, a pet or their car. Some may have some assets they inherited from a grandparent when he or she passed on. Nevertheless, without a will, they may not be happy with how those prized possessions may be doled out, since state laws differ on how those assets should be distributed.

It is particularly important for a young person who is married to have a will. In an article by Daisy Maxey titled “Planning for the Unthinkable” (Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2010), Ms Maxey points out that when one spouse dies without a will, in most states the property goes to the surviving spouse. However, in South Carolina, half the property goes to the surviving spouse and half to children of the deceased. Minor children must go to court to establish conservatorship. If the surviving spouse wants to refinance the house, they would have to seek court approval.

Another aspect of estate planning for the young that was not addressed in the Journal article, is that of the healthcare directive, sometimes called a power of attorney for health care. Several years ago a young woman named Terri Schiavo in Florida was in coma-like state for fifteen years while relatives and friends argued whether or not to cease life support. Had she thought to prepare for such an event, it would have eliminated the undue stress her situation caused her family. With the young so oblivious to risk, just having a healthcare directive, is reason enough to do some basic estate planning.

While it seems on the surface that the young would be difficult to motivate regarding the creation of estate planning documents, the Journal article put a different light on the subject, as the article quoted Peter Bielagus, a former financial adviser, who gives speeches to young people about managing their money: “Broaching the subject of a will is not as difficult as some parents think. Young adults are generally excited about anything that solidifies their recent adulthood, so parents can bury the topic of wills among other financial tasks…, it’s playing to the idea of being an adult.” The bottom line is that basic estate planning for a young adult gets them started on a solid financial foot and gets them thinking about their future and the assets they will acquire throughout their careers.


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