As an estate planning attorney I come across these misconceptions frequently: 1) I am young, I do not need an estate plan today; 2) estate plans are only for rich people; and 3) I do not need an estate plan because my loved ones know my health care instructions if something should happen to me. Each of these will be addressed in turn.
Estate Planning For Young Adults
An estate plan is a lot like insurance: it will only be missed when you need it and do not have it. The unfortunate truth is you only need an estate plan the moment something unfortunate happens to you, but, as is life, you have no idea if/when that will occur. As of 2010, 26,914 people aged 15 to 34 lost their lives. As to North Dakota, 602 young people die of the four major causes (unintentional injury, suicide, cancer, and heart injury) every year.
However, these statistics do not address injuries and disabilities that do not result in death. Remember estate planning is not just about what happens when you die. There are also other estate planning tools known as powers of attorney and living wills. The former addresses who will be able to make decisions for you as to your legal and financial matters. The latter addresses who will be in charge of making your medical decisions in accordance with your instructions. A fully integrated estate plan will protect your decisions in the event of your death and/or incapacity.
Estate Planning Is Not Only A Rich Person’s Game
I am sure many of you think an estate plan is only for the Scrooge McDuck’s of the world, to decide who gets to jump into their pool full of gold coins after their death. However, estate planning is for anyone who wants a say in what happens to their assets at their death. Now, you may think you have no assets or at least nothing of real value. If this is you, please perform the following exercise. Go into the storage part of your house, garage, apartment, dorm, etc., and take a rough inventory of what is in there. For example, mine is the office, lovingly referred to as the “junk room”. I see two boxes of baseball cards, an older laptop and television, some hunting gear, old video game consoles, and too many law school books to count. The value of the assets in my “junk room” seem insignificant individually, but when added together are not insubstantial. In performing this exercise remember anything of value is an asset that will go to someone upon your death. Also, keep in mind this was just your “junk room”. This exercise did not include your checking/savings accounts, cars, clothing, furniture, or other personal property. My guess is you have realized you have substantially more assets than you realized. You are welcome. Now, it is up to you if you want to decide who gets what upon your death. Otherwise, the state is more than happy to make the decision for you using what is known as laws of intestate succession. If you have any property you want to go to a specific person, or if you do not want a specific person to receive property, you should have a comprehensive estate plan created.
Oral Health Care Directives Do Not Work
Let’s assume you have had a conversation with your spouse, significant other, or parents concerning what you want to happen if you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself.
Although these conversations are a vital first step in creating your health care instructions, they in no way provide an enforceable health care directive.
Next, let’s assume you think all of your loved ones know what you want to happen in the event of your incapacity, so there would be no point in writing down such instructions. Consider the case of Terri Schiavo. In February of 1990, Terri Schiavo collapsed at home, and oxygen was cut off to her for several minutes. This resulted in Terri needing a feeding tube to sustain her life. This is when the legal battle started between Terri’s parents and Terri’s husband. Terri did not have a written health care directive, so Terri’s husband, Michael, was appointed guardian. Terri’s husband decided, based on oral discussions between himself and Terri, she did not want artificial life support. In 1998, Michael petitioned the court to remove her feeding tube. In 2000, over ten years after Terri’s injury, the court ordered the feeding tube be removed. Terri’s feeding tube actually gets removed in April of 2001. However, the feeding tube was reinserted two days later. Terri’s feeding tube was removed for the final time, and she died in March of 2005, over fifteen years after her injury. While Terri’s unfortunate history is a unique situation, it illustrates how important a health care directive can be, so everyone is aware of exactly what you want to happen in the event you can no longer make your own medical decisions.
I am one of the estate planning attorneys at SW&L. If you have questions, contact our Estate Planning Team at 701-297-2890 or send us an email below.
The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.