At any age of adulthood, you should have an estate plan. However, the focus and goals of your plan will likely be different as you age. Estate planning is not something that you do once and forget. It should be a living document that changes with your life circumstances. The following is a look at estate planning for different stages in life.
As a young adult, you gain independence but still rely on your family for certain types of support. As a single person without children, your parents are your heirs according to Massachusetts Intestate Succession laws, which means they will be left to settle your assets and debts should you become deceased. You may want them to also assist with your health care and financial decision-making if you become incapacitated or disabled and cannot make decisions yourself. Estate planning documents would empower them to do so and make other aspects of managing your estate easier.
Marriage is a major life milestone and one that should prompt you to adjust your estate plan. According to Massachusetts law, your spouse is your heir in lieu of a will and that indicates otherwise. As you share your life with your new spouse, you may want to bequeath assets differently than the law dictates. An estate plan is the best way to accomplish that.
Children, Without or Without Marriage
Having children is often a major motivating factor to creating an estate plan. If you are married and have children of the same marriage, your estate will go to your spouse. If you are unmarried, your children will equally split your assets. This may sound straight-forward enough, but there are other considerations for underage children since they cannot receive assets directly until they become an adult. If you are in a blended family with children from a prior relationship, estate planning is crucial. Assigning guardianship and including safeguards (such as a trust with a trustee) are critically important.
Empty Nesting & Retirement
As your children get older, it eliminates the need for guardianship. However, there may be other considerations that will influence the percentage of assets left to your spouse, children, and/or other parties such as relatives and charities or minimizing estate taxes. You may even want to assign assets unevenly based on the life circumstances of each heir, such as their healthcare needs and ability to earn income or to address a substance abuse issue without disinheriting that child. You may want to leave assets to a child and make sure those assets are protected in the event of a divorce.