Holland, MI Will & Trust Attorney
-When should I make my first will?
You should complete your first will at age 18 – when you are first considered a legal adult. Give yourself a will for your birthday or ask a friend or family member to give you the gift of making a will.
-Why is a will a great gift, isn’t that, like, totally morbid?
A will is a great gift because it leaves certainty for your loved ones and gives them the power to help you if and when you are unable to help yourself.
-Gives them the power to help me how?
Once you turn 18, your parents can no longer make decisions for you. This includes giving permission to treat you if you are hospitalized and unable to make decisions for yourself, such as if you are in a coma after an automobile accident. I know at 18 we all think we are immortal and death will never come for us. NEWSFLASH: death comes for us all in the end, sometimes sooner and sometimes later. “An ounce of preparation beats a pound of cure” – Benjamin Franklin. Realistically, however, few people get their first will and estate planning documents completed at 18. This is usually not the end of the world because few people have more than a small estate ($22,500) worth of possessions and few 18-year-olds have children.
-When, then, is the really necessary time to have your estate planning documents created?
The real sticking point of when you should have your first set of estate planning documents created is when you have children. Yes, it is nice and kind to have them when you get married (what if something happens on the honeymoon), but when you first have kids is the real kicker.
-You keep referring to “estate planning documents.” What do you mean by that phrase?
Your estate planning documents should include, at the bare minimum, a will, a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, a HIPAA waiver, and a living will.
- A will tells the courts where you want your stuff (your assets) to go after you die and after Probate Court (the State) gets through with it. A will also tells the court what you want to happen to your minor children if you are not here to take care of them.
- A durable power of attorney gives your agent (the person you name) the ability to manage your life while you are still alive if you are not able to do it yourself – i.e. if you are in a coma, the person holding your durable power of attorney can pay your bills for you. A durable power of attorney does not allow someone to make medical decisions on your behalf.
- A medical power of attorney gives your agent (the person or persons you name) the ability to make medical decisions for you while you are still alive if you are not able to do it for yourself – i.e. remember that coma you are in? Your medical power of attorney can give doctors permission to do surgery or even pull the plug (stop life support).
- A HIPAA Waiver gives the doctor’s permission to talk to the person or persons you designate about your condition. This is especially helpful if you are not able to give that permission yourself at the time.
- A Living Will gives your family peace of mind and a plan of your wishes. It details whether you would like the doctors to give you life support, artificial nutrition and hydration (food and liquids), etc. The living will tells your family what you would like done, the medical power of attorney gives your family the power to have those wishes carried out.
-Why is it important to have an estate plan created when I first have children?
If you don’t have an estate plan created and something happens to you, your children become wards of the court. Your family then has to retain an attorney to petition the court for guardianship. If they are awarded guardianship, they are carefully monitored by the court to make sure that the situation is in the best interests of your children and that your children are safe. If they want to travel or move, they have to petition the court for permission. Your family has to pay the court (and an attorney) each time they petition the court to do or allow something.
At the same time, the court takes your money (your estate) and appoints someone to manage it for the benefit of your children. The manager takes a fee for their services. If your family needs some of that money, say for tuition or any of the various things children need, your family must petition the court for money – and pay for the petition. The court must then approve the expense.
This is all taking time and money and could have all been avoided if you had created a will. With a will, the person you appoint becomes guardian. Your money (your estate) goes to the people you name. The only time and expense is what it takes to move through the initial probating of your will, which can be avoided almost completely through a trust.
-You keep mentioning the word “first,” as in first estate planning documents. Can’t I just do it once and be done?
An estate plan is a living document. Just as your family changes, so, too, the needs of your estate plan change. You have other children. Your children grow up and have different needs. You buy or sell property. One of the people you designate as an agent or guardian dies or moves far away (or you have a falling out). All of these things cause changes in your estate planning documents.
VanderBroek Law PLLC offers estate planning packages that cover all of your needs to protect your family. Save TIME and MONEY, have your estate planning documents created today!