Many couples in their 20s and 30s put off estate planning because they either don’t think they need an estate plan or don’t think they can afford one. Neither is true. Even a healthy young adult can suddenly become incapacitated or pass away due to an accident or illness. While this is not likely, if you have a spouse or children, it is irresponsible to not plan for this possibility. And it does not have to be expensive. A young family can start with basic legal documents and term life insurance, then update and upgrade as their financial and family situation changes.
Protecting Your Children When Both Parents Pass Away
If you are a parent of a minor child, your biggest estate planning concern is who will raise your children if both you and your spouse pass away. The chances of that happening are small. But you take that chance every time you get in a car together. If both parents do pass away, a Court will appoint a guardian for any minor children. Our statutes say that parents are presumed to know what is in the best interest of their children and that a recommendation in your Will “shall be a strong guide for the clerk in appointing a guardian.” If that happened, both the Clerk of Court and your family members would like to know what you wanted. Leaving these instructions in your Will can also keep your family members from fighting over this issue. A lot of young parents don’t do an estate plan because they can’t decide who should raise their children if they aren't around. Putting off the decision doesn’t make the issue go away. You can always change your mind.
You also have to be concerned about your child’s financial future. The first thing you have to do is ensure that your child inherits sufficient assets. If you don’t have a lot of assets, that probably means a term life insurance policy. Unless that life insurance is left to the trustee of a trust that you create in your estate plan, a Court will have to appoint someone to oversee your children’s inheritance. There is a good chance that this will be a stranger to your family. And that stranger will be paid to handle your child's money. Another problem with a guardianship is that your children will receive their inheritance when they reach the age of 18.
All of these problems can be avoided by creating a testamentary trust for your children. You can designate that your life insurance be paid to your trust, specify who will manage that money and how the money should be managed, and decide when your children may take control of the assets. All of this can be established for less than one year’s guardian fees.
Protecting Your Surviving Spouse After Your Death
While it is not often that both parents pass away leaving young children parentless, we all know young mothers or fathers who lose a spouse due to a car wreck, cancer or some other tragedy. This raises a different set of problems. But financial problems should not be one of them. If you depend on your spouse’s income or will have to pay for someone to take over responsibilities that your spouse handled, you should plan for a way to replace that income or pay for extra services. This is another situation in which life insurance may help. Guaranteeing the financial stability of your family might cost less per day than your cappuccino.
Most people who are married want their assets to go to their surviving spouse at their death. Some assets will transfer automatically to the surviving spouse by beneficiary designations or because of how title was held. But for other assets, the outcome is not so clear. If you have two or more children, current N.C. law provides that the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $60,000 in personal property that is subject to probate, and 1/3 of the remaining property. Your children split the remaining property equally. If you have real estate in your name only, your minor children will end up owning a portion of that property as well. Your will or trust can avoid that problem.
Protecting Your Family if You Become Disabled
There is always a possibility that you could become disabled or incapacitated. If that happens, your spouse will not automatically have the authority to make decisions for you. Everyone needs to have financial and medical powers of attorney for this purpose. If you are married or have children, this is even more important. Financial and medical powers of attorney give someone else legal authority to make important decisions when you are unable to do so for yourself. If you are married, you will probably name your spouse. But even if you are healthy and young, you should also name a backup. You should also consider a living will and a HIPAA authorization. If your employer does not provide it, you may also want to consider disability insurance.
If you are young and have a family, you owe it to your spouse and children to make sure they are taken care of if you are suddenly removed from their lives.