Why a will is important even before you turn 30
In 2014, Forbes reported that 51% of Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 did not have wills1. The percentage is higher for those below that age range, as 62% of people between 45 and 54 don’t have wills, and it gets worse from there.
Wills and estate planning are one of those topics that many young people simply do not think about. For many young Americans, there is a reasonable expectation of a long life, so the idea of preparing wills or estate plans before the age of 30 seems like a waste of time. But there are three great reasons (and I’m sure we can think of many more) why having a will even before the age of 30 is a good idea.
Reason #1: Lay Out End-of-Life Decisions
Say you die suddenly, with no advanced warning or time to make final decisions regarding your end-of-life care. If you have no legal documents containing instructions about final care, then family members may have to guess at what you would have wanted. Final care could include burial or cremation instructions, organ donation, whether you would like to donate your body to science, whether you would like to be on life support or not, etc. These decisions can be documented in a living will, which may also be called an advanced medical directive. With this document in place, your decisions are recorded and your personal representative can use this document to make decisions in your stead if you are unable to do so or make burial decisions after you have passed.
Reason #2: Keep the State From Stepping In
When a person dies intestate, or without a will, then the state steps in to handle the legal affairs. The state will decide to whom your assets are allocated, which is likely to be the closest living family member such as a spouse or child, if you have them, or a parent if you do not. If you had preferred that someone outside your family received some or all of your estate, that would not happen unless you have a will in place. Without a legal will, your estate will also go into probate, which is the court process used to sort out a person’s assets.
With a will, your wishes regarding who inherits your assets will be recorded and the executor of the will must then follow what you have laid out in the will. As long as the will has been properly drafted , preferably by a lawyer, then your wishes will be respected.
Reason #3: Keep Family From Arguing Your Wishes
Once a valid will has been drafted, then the executor must follow the instructions as set out within the document. Family members cannot then argue unless they wish to fight the will in court. This means that, for example, if you choose to be cremated but your parents would rather you were buried, the executor or personal representative must follow your cremation wishes as laid out in your will or in another document, called Appointment of Agent to Dispose of Remains. Choosing an executor who is not a family member may also help to keep things civil among the family. Selecting a sibling or child as the executor can lead to arguments among family members if someone feels slighted, whereas a third party as executor can be impartial and remain outside family politics.
People below the age of 30 don’t necessarily need to have an estate plan unless there are children, property, or a high volume of assets involved. However, they should certainly have medical and financial powers of attorney in place to protect them should they become disabled, be recovering from an accident, or even be out of town on a business trip. A will can still be a good idea to serve as a record of one’s wishes in how to distribute property and an advanced directive can ensure end-of-life decisions.
1 Richard Eisenberg. “Americans’ Ostrich Approach to Estate Planning.” April 9, 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2014/04/09/americans-ostrich-approach-to-estate-planning/.