Young adults need a will too — so don’t keep putting it off

Published Nov 26, 2017 at 9:00am

“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.” — Aristotle

“I’ve been meaning to get that done...”

“Can’t my parents or siblings just figure out what happens with my stuff ?”

By far, young people come up with the most excuses for not having a will or any other estate planning documents. An AARP study found 78 percent of millennials (ages 18-36) and 64 percent of Generation Xers (ages 37-52) do not have a will.

Another on-line study found a shocking 92 percent of adults under age 35 do not have a will, while polls by Lexis/Nexis found at least 55 percent of the adult population has no will or estate plan in place.

While such lack of estate planning is “good work for lawyers,” it can create havoc among family members or worse, leave the status of minor or disabled children in jeopardy.

While the reasons abound for all adults to complete some kind of estate plan, I’ve found the following to be the key factors for “young(er) people” (ages 18-55) to get their affairs in order.

To Name Guardians for Your Minor Children. With a will you control and designate who will care and be responsible for your minor children along with who will hold any assets in trust for them until they reach an age (generally 25) where they can responsibly handle such assets.

Is there any more critical decision than who will care for your minor children and protect their assets in the event of a tragic accident or sudden illness? Even if you are divorced, you should still name a Guardian in the event the other parent dies and it becomes necessary for a Guardian to be appointed for your children.

Also, without a will any minor children will inherit once they turn 18, no matter the amount or the maturity/responsibility level of that child. An inheritance between the ages of 18-24 may disrupt college financial aid or, worse, distract a child from attending college if they ignorantly believe their newly found assets can sustain them.

To name Guardians and Protect Assets of a Disabled Child or Spouse. If you have a child or spouse with a disability, the importance of a will cannot be stressed enough. In this situation, a lawyer should draft language specifically addressing both the continued care of the disabled person and what happens to the assets they stand to inherit.

In a will you can direct assets to be held in a Special Needs Trust for the disabled person so as to not jeopardize or reduce any governmental or employment benefits they may be receiving. Without a will, you lose that control which can disrupt or curtail such benefits and are leaving it to the courts to decide the care of the disabled person.

To Designate Who Manages your Assets Upon Death.  If you do not complete a will and designate an Executor, you are putting the burden on your family to go to court and agree on who will be administering your estate.

This can result in litigation if there is disagreement or can result in assets never being claimed or distributed if no one steps forward to resolve the estate.

Municipalities commonly acquire real property for back taxes from estates that were never managed by named executors or administrators. Also, if assets need to be held in trust for a minor child, don’t you want to choose the person in control over such assets as opposed to an irresponsible or hostile family member who volunteers to handle them?  

Further, if you own or co-own a business, it is critical to have a succession plan in place regarding what happens to your ownership interest upon death and to designate who will take over and manage the business upon your death. 

To make sure your Heirlooms, “Toys” and other assets go to the people or charities you want. Of course this is true for any age but younger people, especially those without children, tend to have more “toys”: vehicles, motorcycles, guns, musical or stereo equipment, jewelry, antiques, collectibles, artwork, etc.

Without a will, you are leaving it to the courts and State law rules to determine which next of kin inherits such personal property and assets. If you die without a spouse or children, generally your surviving parent(s) or sibling(s) stand to inherit your assets regardless of your relationship with them.

If you wish for any part of your assets or property to go to a close friend, club, group or charity, such desires can be meaningless unless specified in a properly completed Will or Trust.

It is so much easier to update your estate planning as time goes on.  Death, divorce, relationship changes, friends and relatives moving far away and/or other substantial life changes will happen, for better or worse. Having your core documents in place makes it much easier to update documents, and should take far less time and cost, than starting from scratch.

Don’t forget the all-important Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. While statistics may be in a younger person’s favor, death, incapacity and/or disability do not discriminate based on age. In addition to a will, it is critical that younger people complete a Power of Attorney to designate who will take care and manage their affairs if they become incapacitated.

Without a Power of Attorney you risk, among other issues, your family having to bring a costly guardianship proceeding to take control over your care, assets and other affairs.

Similarly, a Health Care Proxy is necessary, among other things, to designate who has the authority to enter a Do Not Resuscitate Order (“DNR”) on your behalf in the event you end up on life support, are incapacitated and have little to no likelihood of survival.

While young people tend to feel invincible or that “there’s always time to do that later,” the long-lasting ramifications of dying without a Will on your family and loved ones can be tragic. Usually one or two meetings with an attorney and properly completing a Will and related estate planning documents can and will bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones while avoiding uncertainty, turmoil, stress and lengthy and costly court proceedings for those left behind.

Getting a basic estate plan in place while young is the ultimate “paying it forward” to yourself and those important to you. As age teaches us, the best time to get things done is now.

James S. Rizzo is an attorney with the law firm of Hilton Estate & Elder Law, LLC, with offices in Rome, Utica, Boonville and Lowville, NY. He has more than 21 years of legal experience and concentrates in Estate Planning matters, including Wills, Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies, Asset Protection, Nursing Home/Medicaid planning and related Litigation issues. He can be reached at (315) 624-9600 or jsr@hiltonlawny.com for a confidential, free initial consultation. Visit us on the web at: www.hiltonlawny.com.