Estate planning is not a trending topic for millennials. It is not popular to plan your death when you think you are young and invincible. You may be starting college, your career, or even a family. Why would you want to imagine the end when your life is just beginning?
Accidents happen every day. In fact, accidents are the leading cause of death for young adults. Every adult individual, regardless of age, should have an estate plan in place. An estate plan is not only about your death. It gives you a voice in unforeseen circumstances. It gives you an opinion in the event something happens to you and you are disabled, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to speak for yourself.
Turning the age of 18 is a milestone. You are now an adult. But this also means your parents no longer have legal authority to do anything on your behalf. For example, they cannot access your bank accounts or medical records. If something happens to you, it is important to have basic documents that will allow someone to speak for you and make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself.
One such document is a power of attorney. A power of attorney allows you to appoint another person to handle financial or legal matters on your behalf. Under a power of attorney, your agent has the ability to access your bank accounts to manage your financial affairs, pay your bills, or sign documents on your behalf. Absent this document, the court must appoint someone to handle your affairs if you are unable to do so yourself.
Another basic document is a designation of health care surrogate. This document allows you to appoint a person to act as your health care surrogate to make medical decisions on your behalf. You can give your surrogate the immediate right to act or the right to act in the event you become unable to do so yourself. When acting, your surrogate will be able to speak with your doctors and health insurance providers, access your medical records, and consent to your medical treatment if you are incapacitated. You can also include a living will provision within the document.
The last basic document (but certainly not the least in order of importance) is a last will and testament, or simply a will. This document allows you to appoint a personal representative of your estate and to direct the distribution of your assets in the event of your premature death. Your personal representative will inventory your things, close all of your accounts (including your social media accounts), pay your bills, and distribute your assets. Absent this document, your assets will be distributed in accordance with Florida law.
You may be thinking, “What assets?” You may own a home. If you are single and own a home in your sole name, without a will, it will be distributed in accordance with Florida law. If you own a home with your significant other or spouse, it is important that you understand the legal effect of a jointly owned home which will avoid probate if owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or tenants-by- the-entirety as opposed to a home held as tenants-in-common which will be subject to probate.
You may have retirement accounts or life insurance accounts offered through your employer. You want to make sure that beneficiaries are listed on these accounts; otherwise, they will become assets of your estate and subject to probate. As such, these otherwise exempt assets would be subject to the claims of your creditors.
You may have minor children. It is essential that your will names a guardian for your children in the event of your premature death. Your spouse will be the guardian if you are married; however, you and your spouse could pass away simultaneously in a common accident. It gets riskier if you are a single parent. If something happens to you and your will designates a guardian for your children, the court will be guided by your opinion as to who should raise your child, rather than by the opinions of your relatives.
It is never too early to think about the end. You may be young, but you are not invincible. Your life is just beginning, but an accident could happen. You want to protect the important people and things in your life. You do not know what the future has planned for you, but you can certainly plan for your future.