By Nancy Burner, ESQ.
Young adults may have the misconceived notion that estate planning is only necessary for certain people, such as individuals of a high net worth or those who are aging. However, there are certain documents that everyone should consider, including the youngest generation of millennials. Having such a plan in place can avoid costly court proceedings as well as plan for your family should you become incapacitated or upon your death.
An estate plan for a millennial would likely include a health care proxy, living will, power of attorney and a last will and testament.
First, anyone over the age of 18 should have advanced directives including a health care proxy and power of attorney. A health care proxy is a document that states who will make your medical decisions if a doctor deems you unable to make them for yourself.
Many people assume that either their spouse or parent is entitled to take on this responsibility should they lose their mental capacity. This is not entirely incorrect. New York State has the Family Health Care Decisions Act that establishes the authority of a patient’s family member or close friend to make health care decisions when the patient did not leave prior instructions.
However, this is only in effect when you are in a hospital or a nursing facility. Therefore, without an agent named on your health care proxy there is no one with authority to make decisions outside of these settings. Additionally, the person who would have authority under this law may not be the one you would have ultimately chosen to make such decisions. By naming someone in advance, you will avoid these potential issues.
You may also wish to execute a living will. This document specifically addresses treatments or procedures you may want or want to withhold in relation to end of life care.
The next document you should execute is a comprehensive durable power of attorney. This is a document that allows your named agents to make financial decisions on your behalf and assist in taking care of your daily financial obligations. A power of attorney is practical should you become incapacitated or unable to handle your bank accounts or assets at any time.
Should you not have these advanced directives in place and become incapacitated, your loved one may have to commence a guardianship proceeding to have the authority to make these decisions. Guardianship proceedings can be costly and time consuming for all involved. Additionally, it may involve family members in the court proceeding that you did not intend to include in your daily affairs.
Finally, when executing a last will and testament, you can designate your beneficiaries, the specific items or amounts you will leave them and how they will receive your assets. These designations are especially important for individuals with minor or disabled beneficiaries. If your beneficiaries include minors or disabled individuals, an attorney can draft your last will and testament to make sure they receive their share in an appropriate trust and that a specific person or entity is named to manage the assets on their behalf. Additionally, you can name whom you would like to act as the guardian for your children within your will.
Regardless of your age, a comprehensive estate plan will ensure the appropriate needs and goals are met for you and your family during your lifetime and upon your death.
Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.