Who should have an estate plan?

NOTICE: None of these questions and answers constitute legal advice. To obtain legal advice, consult with an attorney. This is
especially important in divorce and family law matters, in which outcomes are often peculiar to the particular facts and circumstances of the case.
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Question: Who should have an estate plan?

Answer: You should have an estate plan if:

(1) You are the parent of minor children;

(2) You have property that you care about; and

(3) You care about your health care treatment.

If you have minor children you will want to name a guardian for your minor children in case both parents die, and you may want to nominate a different guardian to look after your children’s financial affairs. Minor children are not allowed to inherit more than a few thousand dollars directly. Their inheritance must go into a trust, with an adult to manage it. If you don’t set up this trust in your estate plan, a probate court will have to do it at a greater expense, and the cost of that will come out of your child’s inheritance.

Property you care about includes property that has a sentimental value, not just a high monetary value. Just saying that you want your daughter to have your jewelry and your son to have your boat, for example, won’t be legally binding. You need to put all this in writing. Each state has laws about where property will go if it is part of a decedent’s estate at death and there isn’t a Will. These are called laws of intestate succession. If you want your property to be passed differently than it otherwise would under the laws of your state, then you need an estate plan.

If you have strong feelings about how long your life should be preserved if something should happen, such as falling into a vegetative condition or needing life support, then you will want to write out your instructions in a Living Will or use a Designation of a Patient Advocate to appoint someone you trust to make these decisions for you should you become incapacitated and unable to make these decisions for yourself. If you don’t do that, someone you wouldn’t have chosen might make these decisions for you, and the decision they make might not be the decision you would have wanted.

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