When you hear the words “estate planning” what is your first thought? Oftentimes, images of the very wealthy along with complex trust and tax planning spring to mind. In actuality, estate planning includes important documents that should be considered by people of all ages, regardless of one’s current stage in life. Whether a person just turned 18 or is enjoying retirement, estate planning includes different legal documents that deserve discussion. Below are some of the important periods and ages where estate planning should be thought about:
- Turning 18: Every person should have, at the very least, a valid Health Care Power of Attorney and Financial Power of Attorney in place upon turning 18. Wisconsin Statutes do not provide for any “default” person to make decisions for an individual after they turn 18, even if they are a parent or spouse. In the absence of a valid Health Care Power of Attorney, a guardianship proceeding may be required, which can become very expensive.
- Parents of young children: Estate Planning is also critical for parents of young children. By executing a will, young parents can nominate a guardian to provide personal security for their minor children. From the financial side, a testamentary trust can be incorporated into the will to ensure
minor children do not receive all assets left to them by their parents at age 18 in one lump sum distribution. Instead, parents can nominate a trustee to manage any assets for the benefit of minor children and make distributions to the children upon reaching a pre-determined age, set by the parents.
- People looking to avoid Probate: Estate Planning also includes more detailed plans for individuals or couples who desire to bypass the probate process. With a revocable trust, the probate process can likely be largely avoided, which in turn, leads to a quicker estate administration and a faster distribution of assets to beneficiaries. The revocable trust is also a private document that is not publically available and can give added protections for beneficiaries from creditors.
- Individuals concerned with protecting assets from Nursing Home Care: For individuals who are worried about the possible costs of nursing home or long-term care, estate planning can provide asset protection. An irrevocable trust, unlike a revocable trust, can be used to shelter certain assets from being liquidated to satisfy nursing home expenses. However, assets are only safe if they are in the irrevocable trust for the 5 years prior to applying for a needs-based program, such as Medicaid. Additionally, control of any assets in an irrevocable trust must be ceded from the initial owners. Even with these trade-offs, for some clients the benefit of protecting certain assets from any nursing home care is well worth the protections an irrevocable trust provides.
The Estate Planning process addresses a wide range of issues for individuals of all different ages. From the young couple who just had their first child to the couple who has been together for over 60 years who are concerned about the impeding cost of nursing home care, estate planning can provide ease of mind ensuring the maximum protections are in place to preserve and protect each person’s assets.