If people don’t have small children, they often don’t get around to estate planning until they’re older than 40. However, it’s important to do it sooner, for the reasons discussed below, and so I always have a little bit of extra admiration for my under-40 estate planning clients who recognize that it’s important even at a young age.
One of the reasons many younger people don't think about estate planning is because they feel they don't have many assets, and oftentimes do have a lot of debt. But financial considerations are far from the only considerations when thinking about estate planning. For any assets that a young person does have, it's important that those assets be directed to the people or charities that person wants their assets to go to. For single people without children, the entire estate goes to the surviving parents if the young person dies. This may be what the deceased person wanted, but I find that most of the time my younger single clients prefer to leave whatever estate they have to younger family members, such as nieces and nephews, since many of my younger clients' parents are well situated in life and do not need more than they already have.
Estate planning also involves planning for someone to make medical decisions for you should you become unable to--and to also express your end-of-life wishes such as being kept alive artificially by life support systems. Although in a perfect world everyone would live out a full life, we all know that tragedy can strike at any age. As I described in my post on estate planning for college-aged children, once a person turns 18, they are considered legally independent, and it is nearly if not absolutely impossible for family members such as parents to step in and play an active role in their adult child's medical care without consent by the child (who is often incapacitated and cannot give consent). Thinking about this sooner rather than later can prevent a lot of pain, stress, and expense should tragedy strike.
For under-40's who are married, the purchase of life insurance can also be a valuable component to a sound estate plan. Granted, million dollar policies may not be needed, but life insurance can ensure a continued quality of life for a surviving spouse, at least until the surviving spouse can re-calibrate to life as a single person again, by replacing lost earnings that the deceased person otherwise would have earned. The same holds true--if not more true--for unmarried couples, whether same-sex or opposite-sex. For unmarried couples, having a will is of vital importance, since an unmarried partner has no standing to inherit from the deceased partner's estate if not provided for in a will.
Plus, it's important to know that estate planning documents can be tweaked or overhauled throughout life as a person's circumstances change. A person should never feel "locked in" to documents they create at a younger age. For my under-40 clients, we consider estate planning an evolving process, and especially in today's world of word processing programs it is not a big deal to make modifications to existing documents and re-executing them. Personally, I charge very little if anything for such alterations.
I know first-hand that a sense of mortality doesn't really kick in until a person is 40 or older, absent major health issues. But that doesn't mean a person is immortal, and I hate to see what can happen when tragedy strikes a young person without core estate planning documents in place. If you ever want to discuss these issues further, free of charge, please contact me anytime.