Who Needs a Will?
Who needs a Will and should talk with an Estate Planning Attorney? As a Massachusetts estate planning firm, we have noted four common answers to that question:
(1) “You should get a Will when you become and adult at 18.”
(2) “You should get a Will when you start or go off to college.”
(3) “You should get a Will or estate plan when you get married.”
(4) “You should get a Will or estate plan when you have children.”
First. What is Estate Planning?
As the name implies, estate planning involves plans (legal documents) about how to transfer your assets (your “estate”) at death or if incapacitated. Many who offered those four answers above, forgot about ‘incapacity.’ Folks think death. Modern life saving medicine is such that a serious accident, heart attack or stroke will not kill you, but will LIKELY incapacitate you – you might be in a medically induced coma as a therapy to save your life. But who can speak on your behalf?
Therefore, no matter at what age you think it is appropriate to get an estate plan that tells the world how to distribute your estate at your death, you should also plan how to manage your estate while you are still alive but unable to make your own legal decisions because of an incapacitating illness or injury.
When You Turn 18
Massachusetts law states that when you turn 18 you are an adult. Once you turn 18, your parents no longer have legal authority to make your choices for you. If you are temporarily or permanently incapacitated due to illness or accident and unable to make your own choices, no one could legally help make medical or financial decisions on your behalf without a lot of time and expense petitioning the government (courts) for various permissions. Most 18-year old’s don’t have many assets (an estate) yet, so an 18 year old’s estate plan could be very simple: (1) a Health Care Proxy, (2) a Durable Power of Attorney, and (3) a Living Will. These three documents don’t require much in the way of “planning” (lawyer time) and therefore are relatively inexpensive.
When You Start or Go Off to College
Few college students ever consider the need for an estate plan. Obviously, they have only a few assets; maybe a car, smartphone, laptop, and a guitar. Also guilty of assumptions are the parents of college-aged students who assume since they are paying for college and that their child is still living under their roof, they are in control and can make any legal decisions. But they cannot! Once their child reaches 18, Massachusetts law classifies your child as an adult. An eighteen-year-old has the right to privacy (especially in a medical setting), and the power and responsibility to govern their own lives. If a college student of 18 or older does not have proper estate planning documents, their parents generally cannot make medical decisions for their child in case of illness or accident nor can they access their adult-child’s financial accounts.
When wondering who needs a will and thinking 18, you are correct! The moment anyone becomes a legal adult begins to accumulate money (even a few thousand dollars) they should start the estate planning process: which is a life-long process like having auto insurance. Many college students will have bank balances of $20,000 and greater each year because of student loans. It is wise to make sure one’s parents or loved ones can step in to manage their assets, help make medical decisions, and manage your affairs in the event of your incapacity or death.
When You Get Married
Getting married is a big change in an individual’s life. There are many practical and legal changes when one marries. One of these changes should be –minimally– the creation of a Will. If you had a Will before marriage it is even more important to talk with an estate planning lawyer if getting married as your Will becomes invalid if it did not have a ‘contemplation of marriage clause’ to address your new spouse. If you had a Will and do not draft a new one, then generally the entirety of your estate would go to your wife, husband or civil partner. You could be leaving relatives and loved ones stunned by your not addressing them.
When You Have Children
“When I have children, YES I know… I should get a Will or some estate planning documents.” Yes! You’re catching on! By now, you might get the idea that every adult should address estate planning. Otherwise, no one can help them if they are ever in a coma following a common traffic accident and need someone who cares about them to be their voice with the doctors. Who Needs a Will? So far, everyone…
The truth is simple. No matter the FOUR life scenarios different people start thinking about Wills and protecting themselves and loved ones, EVERY adult should do some sort of estate planning. Anyone 18 years or older should have 2 invaluable documents: (1) a Health Care Proxy, and (2) a Durable Power of Attorney. Then, if anything happens to you — that incapacitates you — you’ll not burden your parents, your spouse or loved ones by legally tying their hands. If you have NO estate planning documents, those who desperately want to help you often cannot. If you have a few bucks in the bank, consider adding a Living Will to that list.
If having children is the motivating factor that got you to consider “Who needs a Will?”, you’re being smart by doing some investigation. Anyone with children or about to have kids should talk to an estate planning lawyer. Moreover, phoning an estate planning lawyer will cost you nothing. Calls exploring wills and estate planning are usually free of charge, so why not investigate?
No one wants to consider the possibility of leaving your kids as orphans, but it does happen. A little planning will ensure that should you and your spouse be tragically killed that your predetermined choice of a guardian is legally established. For parents who own a home and have collected some assets, it also makes sense to set up a revocable living trust that you control COMPLETELY while alive, but will help take care of your children upon your death, and will avoid Probate. Probate is the painful, expensive, time-consuming Probate process that can be a huge burden on those who survive your passing.
Question: Who Needs a Will? Is it for individuals who turn 18; those about to start or finish college; people getting married, or just those having children? Answer: Every adult should do some sort of estate planning and get the minimum documents to protect themselves and those they care about. Michael J. Hurley offers a Free Phone Consultation to answer any questions you might have. Our Wills and Estate Planning law firm serves all Massachusetts residents from offices in Boston, North Andover, and Concord. We also work for many clients remotely with no need to ever travel to our offices.