by Lawrence J. Gregory
My wife and I are part of very large group whom I like to call the Emerging or Newly Established Individuals. We are of a group that does not yet need the advanced estate and tax planning of our Baby Boomer parents, but we are established enough to need a basic plan. The Emerging or Newly Established Individual is someone who has recently made significant life decisions with regards to their financial stability and growth. For instance, my wife and I have begun gearing up to finally sell our condo, purchase a single family home, and start a family. Emerging or Newly Established Individuals have generally done any of the following in the past few years:
- Bought a condo or house
- Recently got married
- Recently had children
- Have a 401(k), IRA, pension, or a life insurance policy.
If you are a member of this group, you are no doubt on the slow and steady climb up the hill of financial responsibility, and are likely burdened with student loans, mortgage payments, condo assessments, the new cost of raising a child, college savings and retirement savings. As a result, developing a quality estate plan tends to be placed on the back burner at the most critical time. I have found that most estate planning by this group is either never timely completed, or is assumed that a discount document provider such as LegalZoom will be sufficient. At this juncture in your life, it has now become critical that you at least have a basic estate plan to properly direct your final wishes for you and your family. A failure to plan for your estate could have unintended consequences, such as the need to open a costly guardianship estate with the court for your minor children, or incurring unnecessary probate costs.
A basic estate plan consisting of a testamentary will, living will, power of attorney for property, and power of attorney for health care is generally sufficient for this group. These documents cover the most critical aspects of the Emerging or Newly Established Individual’s estate, including:
- To whom your property will go upon your death
- Who will be the guardian of your minor children
- Who will be able to make health and property decisions upon your incapacity.
However, if you own real estate or any other large investments, a living trust may also be beneficial to help reduce any probate costs and possible future estate taxes.
While the basic estate plan will cover the needs of most Emerging and Newly Established Individuals, this does not imply that one can feel safe ordering forms from a self-service company like LegalZoom. These companies sell you preprinted fill-in forms without any customization to your specific situation. While this method may be less expensive (and sometimes not) than consulting an attorney, you are ultimately responsible for its contents and correctness. Even LegalZoom’s disclaimer says “The law is a personal matter, and no general information or legal tool like the kind LegalZoom provides can fit every circumstance.” I would not risk such an important document to a website that knows nothing about your personal circumstance. An attorney is still the only way to be confident that your estate planning documents reflect your true wishes.
As an Emerging or Newly Established Individual, you owe it to yourself and your family to develop an estate plan that addresses your wishes regarding everything you have worked so hard to achieve.