Planning for Young Couples

Planning for Young Couples

By Mark T. Coulter, Esquire
Estate Planning Attorney

Many young couples make the mistake of putting off estate planning. Whether it is because it isn’t a fun topic to discuss, or seems to relate to matters far in the future, or sounds expensive, it may not seem particularly pressing. Unfortunately, however, nothing is further from the truth. When death, unforeseen illnesses or incapacitating injuries occur, the presence of an estate plan can be the difference between security and needless tragedy for your family. If you aren’t married but are in an otherwise committed relationship, planning is essential because your partner may otherwise have no legal standing to deal with your affairs or receive any of your assets after your death.

If you should die without a legal will, the assets are distributed according to a plan established by the state, not you. For example, if a husband dies, leaving a wife and young child, then essentially half the money goes to the wife, and half goes to the child. The child’s money is placed under the protection of a legal guardian, and may require court supervision of the financial management. The exact same result happens if a husband dies leaving a widow and 3 teenaged children. Is that the plan you would make for yourself? A plan with nothing addressing the special circumstances of your own life? Probably not.

Fortunately, estate planning for a young couple is often quick and inexpensive. A basic will including guardianship appointments, a living will, and perhaps a power of attorney for financial affairs can address most of the needs which might reasonably arise in the next decade or two. This provides security for your spouse and children, which they may need to rely upon for years, if not the rest of their lives. You can use these documents to appoint executors or trustees to oversee resolving your estate, managing financial dealings, and more. Moreover, you remove or reduce the likelyhood of family squabbles about what you “would have wanted” to be done. It is always heart wrenching to see families fight over financial or personal details after a death, when instead they should be focused on the well being of themselves and those around them.

Three legal roles should at least be considered for inclusion in the young couples planning documents : guardians, executors and trustees. A guardian is the person who is responsible for the custody and care of a child. If a child is left orphaned, you want them to receive care in the best possible hands. In addition to routine care, this person will have to make medical decisions, educational choices, religious guidance, and provide the proper nurturing to your child. Where will your children live if an accident takes away their parents? With planning, you can make that selection, based on the factors you find important, rather than a judge you’ve never met making the decision on his own if you are gone. By putting off planning due to fear, indecision or failure to prioritize it, you effectively decide to place your family in jeopardy.

Your executor also serves an important rule, though for a much shorter time. The executor is responsible to wrap up your estate, collecting assets, paying debts, resolving taxes, and distributing property under your will. It is a paperwork-intensive process requiring good organizational skills and an ability to solve problems. Someone located in the area where you live is frequently a better person than someone far away, due to the logistics of paperwork, court appearances, attorney consultation, bank visits and similar duties. This person will be responsible to see that what you had goes to whom it should, so it should be someone hard working, intelligent, and trustworthy. As attorneys, we can handle these duties for you, or you can appoint someone else.

Finally, you may want to establish a trust to protect assets which will pass to young children. A trustee oversees financial assets left for a child, investing and distributing them according to terms you have described in a Will or in a Trust document. This may involve managing assets for many years as your children grow and become responsible adults, during which time the trustee will have to make many decisions about what is best for your child and their finances and care. A trustee should be knowledgeable of financial dealings, have good communication skills, and be very trustworthy. An attorney can handle those duties, or you can select a friend or family member who is both willing and able to handle those duties for the long haul.

You may also wish to discuss having a living will and/or power of attorney prepared. A living will can describe who you would like to make medical decisions about your care and treatment if you are left unable to do so yourself. Moreover, you can describe your wishes about various types of medical treatment which you do, or do not, wish to receive if you are permanently unconscious or terminally ill and unable to communicate, such as blood transfusions, feeding tubes, and more, if your condition is one from which you will never recover. This avoids the types of family tragedies which come out of the blue, such as the publicized cases of Karen Quinlin, Nancy Cruzan or Terri Shiavo. Separately, a power of attorney can be prepared which permits someone to act on your behalf, handling financial and personal matters on your behalf when you may be unable to attend to them. If you are seriously injured, or otherwise left incompetent, or even just out of the country for a while, your financial affairs will still need someone to look after them. Whether depositing checks, paying bills, collecting rents, signing property documents, or many other tasks, your selected representative armed with a Power of Attorney can legally handle these affairs for you.

With early estate planning, a young couple can quickly and inexpensively protect their family against many of the horrible “what if’s” which wake you up at night. The process of planning is quick and painless. Once in place, this plan will continue to protect those interests 24/7/365, in a mature, responsible fashion. Sure, your life will change over the years, but your estate plan can evolve easily along with you. There is a reason your parents have a will; isn’t it time you did too?

The best place to start is to give us a call today.

About Our Law Office

At the Estate Planning Centers at Coulter & May, P.C., we devote our practice to estate planning and assisting families through such transition times with estate and trust administration counseling. We offer guidance and advice to our clients in every area of estate planning, and offer comprehensive and personalized estate planning consultations. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar or to book a consultation directly, please contact us at (412) 253-7526 or visit us online at www.estateplanningcenters.com.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is a conversational summary of a complex area of law and should not be construed to constitute legal advice. No person should rely upon the content of this article for making any decisions, and should instead consult with appropriate legal and tax professionals.