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Now that we’ve reviewed the elements of an estate plan, and each document’s purpose, it’s important to keep in mind how estate planning needs evolve and change over someone’s lifespan. Here are some examples of how different phases of life call for updates and changes to your “estate plan.”

Your 20s

As a young professional, someone at this stage of life might want to think about having a simple Will prepared, and Powers of Attorney (POAs) for healthcare and property. With these documents in place, parents and friends have instructions for what to do with your physical possessions. Your Will can address who is going to handle distributing your bank accounts, and who has the authority to close social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram. Your Will might also tell your loved ones who you’d like to care for any pets.

At this stage of life, one of the most important reasons to have a Will and Powers of Attorney for Healthcare and Property on hand is to make sure that someone can make healthcare decisions for you, pay bills, and keep your lights turned on if you are unable to do so yourself because of serious, unexpected illness.

Your 30s

This period of life can include some momentous events, like getting married or starting a family. Your estate plan might need to be updated to reflect your spouse and children. Now that you’re more established, you might want your partner to have the authority to settle your estate, instead of leaving that up to your parents or a friend. Similarly, you might need to update your POAs to make sure that special person is named to make healthcare decisions for you if you become seriously ill.

When you become a new parent, your Will needs to name a guardian for your children in case something happens to you. You might consider setting up a trust for life insurance proceeds and any accumulated financial assets to support your spouse and children after you die. The trust can tell everyone who’s in charge of making decisions about those assets, and who you want to manage the money until your children are old enough to do this themselves.

You might need to ensure that any 529 college-savings accounts have clearly named successor owners so that someone can step in and take over managing these accounts on behalf of your children should you die prematurely. The successor owner will also distribute the money for education expenses when your children start attending college.

Your 40s

At this stage of life, you’ve had more time to accumulate savings and assets, so it’s more important than ever to be sure you have an appropriate estate plan in place.

Unfortunately, many marriages that began a decade earlier may now end in divorce, which brings its own set of challenges. Part of the divorce process should include updating your estate plan. You may need and want to remove your former spouse from your estate plan, and name other individuals to act in the capacity of your agent for healthcare and financial decisions.

Your 50s and 60s

As your kids reach the age of majority and leave the nest, you might need to change your Will and remove the section that names a guardian for your children. You may want to change previous trust provisions to recognize and give children the ability to inherit money sooner. Conversely, perhaps you now realize that you have a child with spendthrift tendencies. A good estate plan can address this and put provisions in place to protect your children from themselves and what they don’t know.

You might have family members who were named in previous documents as heirs who are now deceased. It becomes necessary to remove them from your estate plan and add other loved ones in their place. At this time of life, you may have accumulated a substantial amount of financial wealth, having reached the pinnacle of a long career, and your maximum earning potential. Ensuring that your plan minimizes taxes and that all financial accounts are titled properly becomes important to avoid probate and over-taxation later.

Your Later Years

By now, you should have an estate plan in place and discussed it openly with your family members, or close friends and advisors who are named in your documents to step in and run things at your death. For example, you may have asked your son to be the executor of your Will. You’ll need to share that information with him, so he’s prepared to act in that capacity when the time comes. If you named a beloved niece to act as a successor trustee when you become incapacitated, you might want to ensure that she has a copy of your estate plan and the trust, so she’s prepared to play that role when the time comes.

It can be a good idea to include older adult children in meetings with your advisor, especially when your health starts to decline. At the very least, a child who is supposed to be “in charge” of things when you die should be given an inventory of financial assets and contact information for each financial institution. If you designate your spouse to act for you when you die or become incapacitated, then it becomes absolutely necessary to prepare your spouse to step into that role at a moment’s notice. Meetings with financial advisors, and any discussions with your attorney should always include your spouse to ensure that they will feel comfortable working with the people who will help them manage your estate.

We all need a thoughtful and up-to-date estate plan at every stage of life. As you transition through each stage, you’ll need to update your plan to make sure everything is current and in order. We suggest you review your estate plan every five years or so, or whenever there’s been a major change in your life, or to estate tax laws. Doing so will ensure that your loved ones are taken care of, taxes are minimized, and everyone knows their role if you become incapacitated or pass away. A good estate plan is “the best gift you can give to your family.”


This is intended for educational purposes only. Please consult your financial and legal professionals regarding your unique situation.

Author Janet E. Petran Financial Advisor

Janet has been involved in the financial services industry since 1982. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

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