It is easy to put off estate planning. Many estate planning documents don’t come into play until something bad occurs, such as death or incapacity, and no matter what your age, these are uncomfortable topics to discuss. This procrastination in estate planning is particularly true with younger people, where the urgency of a health crisis may not be present as a catalyst for them to put their wishes on paper. However, there are fundamental reasons – likely different reasons than those of an elderly client – that a younger person needs a will.
A younger person may not have accumulated as much wealth as his or her older counterparts. But, that does not mean that they shouldn’t have a plan for the assets that they have earned. If a person dies without a will in Pennsylvania, the estate will pass pursuant to Pennsylvania’s intestate law. Often this is not how someone, including a younger person, would wish his or her estate to pass.
Many married couples want all of their assets to pass to their surviving spouse at death, and assume the law without a will provides for such disposition. As an example, in contrast to that assumption, let’s look at a married couple with no children whose parents are still living. If one spouse passes away, the intestate law pays the first $30,000.00 plus one-half of the balance of the estate to the surviving spouse. The other one-half of the balance is paid to the deceased spouse’s parent(s). When you take into consideration that some assets don’t pass through an estate, such as joint assets and assets with beneficiary designations, the situation can get more complex. A discussion of assets, how assets are titled, and who the person wants those assets to go to results in a will to make sure the person’s estate is administered as they desire.
For adults with minor children, a will serves as the document used to name a guardian of the person for those children should the parents pass. This is the person who will take custody and legal authority of the children. After the death of the parents, without this guardian designation, various relatives from either side of the family may feel strongly about guardianship of the children. This can create drawn out legal proceedings and uncertainty for children in an already tumultuous time.
On the financial side, considerations should be given as to the appropriate age for distribution of a child’s share of an estate. There are a variety of options based on the parent’s specific situation and preference, including trusts in wills, naming Pennsylvania Uniform Transfer to Minors (PUTMA) custodians, and directing appointment of guardians of the estate.
While a younger person may be more inclined to think time is on their side, a crisis could occur at anytime. The best way to ensure that your wishes are carried forth is to get those wishes in writing in your will.