I'm 25, not married, and with no kids. Do I have any reason to be thinking about estate planning yet?
Yes, you should think about it. The fundamental question is "if I died or became disabled today, how much burden will I put on the people I care about?" Estate planning is mostly about relieving stress for, and creating meaningful communication with, the people you care about.
There are a lot of possibilities, depending on your entire personal and financial situation. It is not possible to list them all. Here is a selection of a few:
Death: If you have more than a car and a checking account with a modest balance, you have some assets that will need to be taken care of. If you have personal or family things that should go to specific people, you will want to take care of that. If you are a beneficiary of a trust or other relationship, your death may trigger events under those documents.
If you have collections like coins, art, whatever, you may want to say where it goes.
Disability. For a young healthy person, disability is usually much more likely than death. Think about how your disability would affect you and the people in your life. Purchasing disability insurance can preserve your quality of life and protect your loved ones from needing to support and care for you.
Maybe, maybe not. It never hurts to go and talk to an attorney and find out what is involved. One thing to consider is what happens if you do nothing - and sometimes it's OK to do nothing. In Oregon if you don't have a will we have laws called intestacy laws which will give whatever property you have to your closest family members in a listed priority that follows what most people would want anyway. If that works for you then you may not need to worry about a will.
If you have very little, Oregon has a small estates affidavit process that makes it easy for your relatives to deal with your estate without a will or probate.
If you become incapacitated your relatives can go to court and set up a guardianship to manage your personal care and a conservatorship to manage your financial care. Any document you made before your incapacity naming the people you prefer to be in charge will be considered by the court and normally followed. If there is no document, the court will follow a statutory list of possible people to appoint to care for you starting with your blood relatives.
If you are in the hospital on life support and have an Advanced Directive, the people you nominated will be consulted as to whether medical treatment should be continued or stopped. But as a practical matter, the same thing will happen if you don't have an Advanced Directive, the doctors will consult with your family members. Probably the biggest differance an Advanced Directive can make is that it can give this decision making power to a non-relative, such as your best friend or your domestic partner, people that would otherwise have no legal input into your care.
There can be tricky situations where an Advanced Directive will make a big difference - such as people with Lou Gherig's disease who can no longer move and may want to die but they aren't at the point where medical science would declare them brain dead. With an Advanced Directive their designated health care representatives can turn off life support without fear of criminal charges. On the other hand, Oregon is a very liberal state when it comes to the right to die. We have legalized assisted suicide. So there are fewer situation where an Advanced Directive is critical then in other states.
So the answer to your question is that it never hurts to do estate planning but if you are strapped for cash and don't get around to it, it won't be the end of the world. You definitely should learn more about it to make an informed decision. If you go to my web page (link is below), on the page called "articles and links" I have free information on estate planning including links that will take you to the Oregon State Bar website where different attorneys have written articles that will explain the topics in this area to you in simple language. I would highly recommend that you read all this information.
I do a huge amount of estate planning. People think that it just revolves around finances and wills, which is incorrect. Anyone over the age of 18 should have a durable financial power of attorney for someone to take care of their financial affairs if they are incapacitated, a medical power of attorney for a family member or friend to make medical decisions if the person can not make them for themselves (unconscious), a DNR document, and a living will (about life support). A simple will can also be prepared. Many people simply do not understand that this is also a key component of estate planning.
Any time after 18 is a great time to start planning.
While issues at your age tend to be fairly straight forward, requiring a very simple will, there are other components of an estate plan that are more critical.
Health Care Power of Attorney: Designates who will make medical decisions for you when you are not able to communicate.
Durable Power of Attorney: Designates who will make financial decisions for you when you are not able to communicate.
Living Will: Lets your doctor know if you want to be on life support or not in the event you are in a permanent vegetative state.
HIPAA: Lets your doctors communicate with your family.
At a minimum all people need to have those documents regardless of their estates complexity.
The good news for you is these documents and a basic estate plan that will last you until you are married and or have kids is fairly inexpensive.
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