“But I don’t have an estate.”
This is a common response I receive when I tell people I am an estate planning attorney. People often give me this response because: (1) they do not want to talk about death and dying, or (2) they do not think they have enough money to consider “estate planning.”
In short, this person is wrong. Everyone has an estate, no matter the size. This is because proper estate planning is not only about what happens to your stuff when you die. Instead, the first goal of any estate plan should be about taking care of you now and in the future, while you are alive.
Estate planning at its core is really about taking care of people.
It is about taking care of you, now and in the future. Only after you are taken care of will an estate plan pass your property to your heirs. In the meantime, the assets you have worked so hard for should be used to provide for your best quality of life. If, in the future, you are not able to manage your own finances and care, an estate plan should designate a trusted family member or friend to take care of you. A proper estate plan helps make sure that the right people take care of you, when you cannot care for yourself.
Every estate plan should protect you during life. At a minimum, you should have a financial power of attorney and a health care power of attorney. These documents are the very foundation of every estate plan, no matter how small or how large. They direct someone to manage your finances, or make health care decisions, for you when you cannot. These documents are effective while you are alive, and are about taking care of you.
Only after you have passed away, is when an estate plan is about taking care of your loved ones. An estate plan should provide for your spouse, children, or heirs. There are many factors to be considered including protecting any inheritance from remarriage, or from your heir’s creditors. Additionally, you may want to encourage education, investing, or other goals through your planning. A good estate plan should discuss what your goals are for your heirs, and how to best take care of them.
Everyone needs an estate plan because everyone has someone to care for, namely yourself.