Estate Planning Isn’t Just for Seniors: The Documents to Have in Your 20s

Estate planning is just about everyone’s least favorite subject after taxes, and that applies even more so if you’re a young adult. The term itself—estate planning—doesn’t exactly draw you in if you’re a recent college grad or early in your career. You probably don’t have much of an estate to begin with, and you’re just starting out in life. Why should you think about something so gloomy as the end of life?

Unfortunately, life can go wrong for everyone, which makes estate planning important for people of all ages and income levels. As someone in the prime of your life, you’re less likely to die than, say, someone in their 70s or 80s, but accidents can happen.

If you were, for example, in a car accident that left you unable to make decisions for yourself, you could have someone you love and trust manage your affairs for you. And if the unthinkable really were to happen and you died, by having the right documents in place, you could help your family during what would already be an emotionally overwhelming time.

Here are four documents to consider setting up now:

  1. Will: You don’t need a lot of money in your checking account to write a will, but by having a will in place, you can spare your family from going to probate court to access that account. Plus if you are single, nonfamily members (like your boyfriend or girlfriend) will not receive anything unless you spell it out in a will. Don’t consider a will as a document limited to items that have monetary value—sentimental items are important too.
  2. Financial durable power of attorney: A financial power of attorney allows someone to make financial decisions on your behalf. It can be an important document to set up if you want to travel while in college. By naming your parents as your attorney in fact, you would allow them to handle your finances while you’re abroad. Alternatively, you could set up the power of attorney to become valid only if you are incapacitated, or unable to make decisions on your own.
  3. Health care durable power of attorney: This is similar to the financial power of attorney above, but it would allow whoever you name to make important medical decisions on your behalf should you become unable to make those decisions. While you’re at it, consider preparing HIPAA release-of-information forms. The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is meant to protect your privacy, but it also can prevent your loved ones from learning about your medical condition.
  4. Living will: While we are discussing medical issues, consider a living will. A living will spells out your wishes for things like life support should you be in an irreversible coma. This can be an unpleasant topic to think about, but if you have heard of Terri Schiavo, you know how families can be torn apart by situations like this.

So what route should you take for getting your “estate plan” in order? I recommend an attorney. Younger generations are much more likely to take a DIY route than older generations, but laws have nuances that you may miss if you do these documents on your own.

As you begin protecting yourself and your loved ones (which, really, is what an estate plan is), then you can consider other issues, such as how to manage your social media accounts and whether you should carry life insurance. By laying the groundwork now, you will be ahead of most Americans, and you will be able to build on these documents as your life and money get more complex.