Seasons of Change
Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all. ~ Stanley Horowitz
September brings early autumn in most parts of the country. While every season marks a change, it seems none more so than autumn. Summer’s green transforms with bursts of color as fields ripen and leaves change. It seems every small town comes alive with fairs, festivals and football games – a sharp contrast to the long lazy days of summer.
Such is the rhythm of life.
In the same way that each of nature’s seasons holds its own promises and challenges, so do the seasons of our lives. Whether you are in the spring, summer, autumn or winter of life, your Life & Estate Planning challenges inevitably change.
Spring into Adulthood
In the context of Life & Estate Planning, spring begins on your 18th birthday, when you become legally responsible for your own personal, health care and financial decisions.
Unless you give your parents, or other trusted adults, proper legal authority in advance, they cannot make your personal, health care or financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated due to an injury or an illness. For example, they would not be able to select a rehabilitation setting for you, have access to your medical records, represent your interests regarding the course of your treatment or even file your income tax return. The failure to make proper legal plans in advance could force you and your loved ones into the Incapacity Probate process by default, because these decisions must be made even if you are unable to make them yourself. Making proper legal plans now could avoid creating potential problems for your loved ones later.
As you grow older, you may get married. It has been said that a marriage may be made in Heaven, but the maintenance must be done on Earth. As part of your marital maintenance, you should review and update your Life & Estate Plan. For instance, your legal plans should be updated to appoint your spouse as the primary decision-maker for personal, health care and financial decisions. In addition, ensure that your separate and mutual assets would be distributed as desired should either spouse predecease, or in the event of your simultaneous deaths.
If you have children, make sure your legal plans are updated to appoint back-up parents should your minor children be left without parents.
Many people find that as their estate grew through the springs and summers of life, more advanced estate planning is now in order. You may consider ways to protect your assets with insurance, trusts or other legal strategies. At the very least, now that your children are adults, you will need to update your plans and may include them as back-up decision-makers for financial and/or health care matters. Consider creating Long-Term Discretionary Trusts for your adult children to protect their inheritance from squandering, divorces, lawsuits or bankruptcies.
If a family business is a major asset in your estate, preserve both the business and your family relationships with proper business succession planning.
Through advanced legal planning, you can even disinherit the IRS and leave more wealth to your descendants by maximizing the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Exemption.
Old Man Winter
We all face the challenges of aging in the winter of our lives. If you have not already done so, make, review or update plans for your own care – from advance directives specifying your medical decision-makers and the type of medical care you would want to how best to pay for long-term nursing care.
A Time for Every Purpose
Even if you have answered these fundamental questions through proper estate planning, it is essential to review your plans periodically, because – as you can see – they may change with the seasons.