Estate Planning at Every Age: A Few Thoughts to Start The Conversation

For some people, talking with an attorney about wills and other long-term estate plans is merely an important part of living a prudent, sensible life. For others, the prospect can seem daunting - a conversation that they would rather not have. No matter where you may be on that spectrum -or in life - here are some basics to consider.

For younger people just starting out, a will is understandably not always at the time of their minds. It's worth recognizing, however, that when someone dies without a will, their property passes to their relatives according to intestacy law. Massachusetts intestacy law says that if a person dies without a spouse or children, their property passes to their parents, if still living, or if not, to their siblings in equal shares. For many young people, this may be what they would want anyway.

Young unmarried people don't have important decisions to make, however. Anyone over 18 (and thus no longer dependent on their parents for medical decisions) should consider who they would like to make their medical and financial decisions if they are incapacitated. A durable power of attorney designates a person to control finances, and a health care proxy does the same for medical decisions. Other documents, such as a HIPAA release (which allows a designated person to discuss medical treatment with doctors without violating patient confidentiality laws) should be considered, as well.

When a person is married or has children, drafting a will becomes even more important. Massachusetts intestacy laws call for all property of a married person without children to pass to the spouse, but some people may wish for some of their possessions to pass to their parents or siblings. Without a will, this cannot be ensured. Married people should also consider revising their durable power of attorney and health care proxy documents, as well as making changes to the beneficiaries of any insurance policies or pension plans they may have, so that their spouse is now the named individual.

Anyone with children should update their will so that it names a guardian for their children, in the event that both parents were to die before the children grow up. This is also the time to consider setting up a trust to take care of any money the children might inherit.

At every stage in life -but particularly as we age - it's important to review wills and estate plans to ensure they reflect current wishes and take account of possible changes in state law. It's also important to verify that anyone given a duty in the will, such as a trustee or executor of an estate, is still around and still wishes to serve in that role. By the same token, it's wise to pick a law firm committed to being of service to you and your family for years to come.