Estate planning is for young and old alike
Estate planning is not just for older adults. Estate planning is not just for wealthy people. Instead, estate planning is an opportunity for people of any age and wealth category to direct who will inherit their money and property, and to suggest who will make medical and financial decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so themselves.
As a young adult, your estate planning may involve establishing beneficiaries for retirement accounts, IRAs, life insurance and other investment accounts. Such decisions may occur at your first job, when getting married and having kids, or when purchasing your first significant asset. While it seems premature to some to establish an estate plan at a young age, the timing could not be more perfect for those who want to rest well at night knowing they have taken steps to protect their best interests, and for those who embrace the idea of preparing documents to help the next generation inherit their estate.
As a young adult, certain documents are essential parts of a well-established estate plan. Some of those include:
• Beneficiary designations
• Durable power of attorney for healthcare
• A living will or healthcare directive
• Durable power of attorney for finances
• Last Will & Testament
As a young adult, this step within an estate plan may be the most important. Even if you are young and without substantial wealth, your estate planning should involve the use of transfer on death (TOD) and payable on death beneficiary designations. Missouri law allows for both and each is free. When you make application for a title from the Missouri Department of Revenue, make sure to request a TOD beneficiary on the title. You may list more than one beneficiary and each of them shares an equal interest in the asset when you pass away. When you establish a bank account, make sure you request a POD beneficiary on the account. Again, you may list more than one beneficiary and each of them shares an equal interest in the asset when you pass away. Such beneficiary designations allow for swift transfer of the assets and they determine who inherits those accounts or assets by non-probate transfer, even if your Will says otherwise because the assets or accounts are not included in the probate estate inventory.
Initially, you may designate your parents or siblings as agents or beneficiaries if you are not married. As you age and your life circumstances change, you will likely update those beneficiary and agent designations to include your spouse and/or children. You must continually review your beneficiary and agent designations. If you become complacent and lose track of those decisions, you may discover one day that your parents or siblings stand to inherit your assets even though you are married or have children.
You will also revise your beneficiary designations as laws change. For example, the SECURE Act changed the way we address IRA beneficiaries beginning in 2020. The legislation reflects policy changes to defined contribution plans such as 401(k)s, defined benefit pension plans, individual retirement accounts such as IRAs and 529 college savings accounts. Prior to 2020, non-spouse beneficiaries could spread out required minimum distributions for inherited accounts based on the IRS life expectancy. Children or grandchildren were previously allowed to spread out their required withdrawals over 30 or 40 years or more and keep money growing in a tax-deferred accounts for decades, a strategy referred to as a “stretch IRA.” Under the current law, non-spouse beneficiaries must withdraw all of the money from an inherited IRA and pay taxes on the withdrawals within 10 years.
Durable power of attorney for healthcare
Also referred to as a healthcare proxy, this document designates an agent or attorney-in-fact, whether related or unrelated to you, to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself. It is a wonderful document to have in place regardless of your age and status. When you become an emancipated person, parents lose the right to automatically make medical decisions and spouses do not automatically inherit the right when they wed you. At our firm, it is not uncommon for a younger client to request this document if they work a dangerous job or travel often. Of course, older adults with increased medical concerns should already have this document in place. If you have a partner but are not married, it is particularly important to have a healthcare proxy giving your partner these important legal rights.
A living will or healthcare directive
Missouri law allows the creation of a living will. This legal document details your wishes for end-of-life treatment. It removes this difficult decision from loved ones and it protects your estate from being exhausted for treatment that merely sustains your terminating life. On numerous occasions, this valuable document has prevented a huge family fight for our clients and their loved ones. It is important to note this document removes the end-of-life decision from your healthcare agent so make sure you inform that person they will not be addressing the removal of life sustaining services.
Durable power of attorney for finances
A durable power of attorney for finances lets someone make financial decisions on your behalf. Without this document, loved ones may not be able to work with a bank, investment firm or other financial institution to make financial decisions for you at a time of need. For younger adults, this form can help someone manage your finances in an emergency, or when you are traveling, or when you merely need assistance on an important financial topic such as buying your first home. Without a power of attorney for finances, your agent or loved one will likely be required to obtain a court order to help you. Every adult needs a durable power of attorney for financial decisions.
Our firm does not make such documents contingent upon your incapacity or “springing.” Who wants to chase down a treating physician to prove you are incapacitated in order to merely pay a bill? As a result, choose your agent wisely as they will more than likely have authority to make decisions with your money upon execution of this document. At all times, you still maintain control over your assets; you are just adding someone else who can also have control.
A Last Will & Testament
A Last Will & Testament should always be used to address property not already subject to a non-probate transfer (TOD or POD, etc.). If you own property and want to control the disposition of that property upon your death, a Will assists in the process regardless of your age or wealth. At our firm, we recommend you review this document every three to five years and revise it upon any major life changes such as births, deaths, marriages, dissolutions, disability or relocation to another state.
How to Get Help
An estate planning attorney can help you establish an estate plan whether you are young or old. Seek out a reputable practitioner in your area regardless of your age but especially as you grow older and your estate becomes more complex. When in doubt, many estate planning attorneys also practice in the areas of probate and elder law. Once a plan is in place, be sure to review it every three to five years and pay close attention to life events such as children death, marriage, dissolution and change of residence. Eventually your life will change or the laws will change and you will make changes to your estate plan.
Todd Miller is a monthly contributor and regularly writes and speaks on various legal topics including estate planning, probate administration, and elder law. He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Ste. A, Jefferson City, Missouri in 2006. He has been recognized as 2016 Adviser of the Year by GolfInc; Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times; and received the Substantial Contributor Attorney Award by the Missouri Bar in 2017. Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.