The Importance of Elder Estate Planning

The baby boomer generation began turning 65 in 2011. According to the U.S. census, it is projected that over 20% of the population in the US will be older than 65 by 2029. However, it has also been reported that around 55% of Americans die without an estate plan or final will..

What exactly is an estate plan?

I like to think of estate planning in a broad scope, so we talk about planning for death as well as incapacity. But often, people tend to ignore the need for estate planning. They do this for many reasons, but probably most often because it can be a difficult subject to bring up. If that happens and somebody either becomes incapacitated or dies there's no one who can sign deeds for them, there's no one who can sign tax returns, or pay bills. As a result of that, the healthy spouse or a family member will have to go through a court proceeding to be appointed guardian or conservator.

Guardianship and Conservatorship proceedings can often be a costly, time consuming process. In addition the individual has to file annual accounting reports. It's best to avoid this in most situations. Instead, you should have an attorney prepare an estate plan well in advance of death or incapacitation.

Estate Planning Benefits

But how is an estate plan beneficial for the family upon somebody's death? Aside from the cost savings of avoiding probate court, there are quite a few other benefits you might not be considering yet. For example, it's a real gift to the family because the parent or the person who died provided instructions for the surviving family. Things like who's going to be in charge, how assets are going to be distributed and many other concerns are addressed when putting together a plan. You could provide special provisions for young people to hold their inheritance in a trust or there might be a disabled child or grandchild. Should they inherit it immediately, it might take them off social security benefits. With proper estate planning, they can do special planning to make sure that the gift for that person is preserved until maturity and there is no loss of benefits.

Estates - One Size Does NOT Fit All

As you can see, there really are many different ways you can customize these plans for your unique situation. There's no one size people that fits all in estate planning. And estate planning isn't just for the elderly. It can be setup as a young adult. If there's a college-age adult child, and they have medical concerns, the parents can't normally access private medical information.This is a great real-world scenario where estate planning benefits even the young and their family. I say 'real-world' because there were two very famous cases just like this, Karen Quinlan and Nancy Cruzan. Their parents took both of these cases to Supreme Court to be able to get permission to pull life support for their young daughters. And of course most people will remember the Terri Schiavo case during the Bush administration. Her husband and family battled through the court system to see who could make end-of-life decisions for her.

He wanted to pull life support, but the parents disagreed. As a result, there was a standoff and that family tragically had to endure all the media attention this situation brought with it. SO, estate planning is definitely not just for the elderly. And it's something that can prevent a lot of unnecessary emotional turmoil in an already troubling time. No matter your age, you should make sure you have an estate plan in place. Be sure that the documents are in a safe place and that someone outside of your immediate family knows where the documents are. It can make all the difference in the world for your family and loved ones.