When Should You Start Estate Planning?

by Katelynne Shepard

Nobody wants to think about what will happen when they move on from this world, but death is inevitable for all of us. Instead of a morbid topic, think of estate planning as a way to take control of your assets and estate and make decisions that can provide peace of mind for you now and protection for your loved ones later.

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After you learn the basics of estate planning, you’ll understand why starting sooner is always better.

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What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is the process of creating a plan for how your assets should be handled after your death. Estate planning can be basic or detailed, but at a bare minimum, it typically involves writing a last will and testament. The will names an executor for the estate and provides instruction as to who inherits what assets. 

Estate plans also commonly use tools like trusts, powers of attorney and living wills. Parents of minor children can name a guardian for their children in the estate plan as well. What should be included in your estate plan depends on the contents of your estate, your goals for your legacy and your state's laws. While it is technically possible to DIY an estate plan, it's always best to talk with an estate planning attorney about your goals and needs. They can ensure your estate plan is in compliance with state law and you've accounted for estate taxes and other complications.

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At What Age (or Stage) Should You Begin Estate Planning?

It's never too late to start estate planning, but as long as you're 18 years old, it's also never too early to start. Many people put off estate planning until they're older or have "enough" assets to make it worth it, but this can be a mistake. Without an estate plan, your estate will take longer to get through probate, and you won't have any control over what happens to your assets. The court will appoint an administrator for the estate, and your assets will be distributed according to the intestate succession laws for your state.

In general, it's a good idea to set up a basic will when you turn 18. More complex estate planning tools can be added to your plan as you accumulate assets, get married or have children. It's also important to continue to update your estate plan through every stage of life to ensure all your assets are included and the instructions in your plan are still accurate.

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What Are the Benefits of Starting Sooner?

The main benefit of creating an estate plan early in life is that your loved ones have a clear outline of your wishes and instructions for your assets if something were to happen to you. This peace of mind can be invaluable when family members are navigating an unexpected death, as it leaves them free to celebrate your life and adjust to life after loss without having to scramble to make estate decisions. 

Another key benefit of early estate planning is that, with careful planning and counsel from an attorney, it's possible to minimize taxes on your estate. You can also use tools such as trusts to leave assets to your beneficiaries in a way that doesn't require probate, which gives them quicker access to their inheritances. 

Early estate planning can also give you a different perspective when you're making financial decisions. You can think about how each purchase fits into your estate plan and the legacy you want to leave behind. Including life insurance, retirement accounts and other financial tools in your estate plan helps you preserve generational wealth.

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