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Estate Planning 101: Save the Date! Here’s When to Create or Update an Estate Plan

- Greg Aler

When it comes to important life events, creating or updating an estate plan tends to slip the mind. And in fairness—whether you’re moving, starting a new job, having a baby, or retiring—you probably have your hands full. Yet when we’re least likely to think about estate planning is usually when we need to most.  


So today, I want to talk about when it’s important to create or revisit your estate plan. Some of these you may already know, but I bet a couple will surprise you.  


Let’s start with the first one, which I’ll call… 


Save the Date #1: The First Job 

This one tends to be a surprise. You’re young, healthy, single, just out of college, and have few or no assets. For most twenty-somethings, estate planning isn’t even on the radar. But it’s important because this is a very mobile period of life—whether you’re moving frequently, traveling, or living far from family. As you’ll recall from the last installment of Estate Planning 101, an estate isn’t just about specifying how you want your assets divided; it’s also about how you want to be cared for in the event you’re unable to make those decisions yourself. So, if mom and dad get a call from the hospital about their twenty-something who lives away from home and needs medical care, an estate plan can help inform their decisions. 


However, there comes a time when you might want to take mom, dad, siblings, or friends off the estate plan, which brings me to our next save the date… 


Save the Date #2: Marriage 

Once you get married, you’ll likely want to update your estate plan (or create one if you haven’t yet) to reflect the role your spouse now plays in your life. At this stage, because you’re just starting to accumulate wealth, the important pieces are a health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney to guide how healthcare and financial decisions should be made. 


Then, as any parent will tell you, everything changes when you have kids. Which brings me to the next point… 


Save the Date #3: The Birth or Adoption of Children 

This is often what inspires young couples to develop an estate plan. But I advocate for starting it sooner, because, as we all well know, life is busy with young children. So, it can relieve some stress if you only need to update your estate plan upon the birth of your children, versus finding an attorney and starting from scratch. 


Either way, the important piece here is updating your documents to specify two things: 1) who should be responsible for the care of your children and 2) who should be responsible for the finances of your children in the event both you and your spouse pass away. These can be the same people, or they can be different. This tends to be a tough decision for parents, but the important thing to remember is that as your children grow, relationships change and family members move, so you may choose to update these designations again.  


And then—barring any major life changes like divorce or the death of a family member included in your estate plan—we can fast forward to our next save the date…  


Save the Date #4: Retirement 

At this stage, your children are older and perhaps they’re married with children of their own. You have more assets and you may want to reconfigure your estate plan to specify that more of your assets go to your children or grandchildren. That’s the type of update that tends to be on people’s minds at this stage.  


But another thing you need to contemplate is how you’re going to protect yourself against the cost of long-term care. Depending on your financial situation, your estate planning attorney might recommend an asset protection trust, which can ensure that you don’t lose everything—including your home—to nursing home costs. This is important to do now because it’s time-sensitive. Your assets must be in the trust for at least five years to be fully protected. 


Finally, that brings us to our last save the date…

Save the Date #5: The Golden Years 

Ten, twenty, thirty years out from retirement can be a long time and a lot can change between now and then. Your assets may be different. You might have moved. The family dynamic might have changed. Maybe you have more grandkids. Or perhaps your preferences for your healthcare power of attorney have changed. Either way, your 70s or 80s are a good time to update your estate plan to reflect those changes. 


So that’s it! Now you have your estate planning “save the dates.”  


The good news is establishing a relationship with an estate planning attorney ensures that you’ll have someone looking out for you through all of life’s seasons. So even if you forget any of these “save the dates,” you’ll have a trusted advisor to stay on top of important updates, making any changes as seamless as possible. 


Even if you don’t currently have an estate plan and are in the midst of a major life event, don’t be daunted by the process of creating one. Our practice is solely focused on estate planning and elder care law, so we’re able to make the process as streamlined and stress-free as possible. That way you can get the protection you and your family deserve, without missing a beat. 


If these save the dates have reminded you or a family member that it’s time to update or create an estate plan, let’s talk about how we can help. Click the Contact button at the top right of the web page to schedule a complimentary consultation to learn more. 


Finally, if you’re just joining us, don’t forget to check out the rest of our Estate Planning 101 series.

Estate Planning 101: Why Life’s Toughest Moments Should Come With Instructions

Estate Planning 101: Why a Trust Makes Sense