Empty nesters: do we need to update our estate plan?

Empty nesters: do we need to update our estate plan?

We sent our youngest child off to college last fall and are now officially empty nesters. Is there anything we need to do with our will at this point?

Many parents write wills when their children are young to designate who would be responsible for their care and finances should both parents die while the children are still minors (or in some cases, college-aged adults). These often create testamentary trusts that go into effect only upon such circumstances and that often must be overseen by the probate court until the trust concludes.

“These are safety nets for children who may be faced with the loss of their parents while under the age of 18,” said attorney Heidi Eglash. “When that risk is no longer a concern, the question becomes, ‘How would we feel if our children inherited our life savings outright tomorrow?’”

Parents who remember themselves as 18-year-olds might hesitate about giving away their life savings to young adults who may not yet have developed good judgment, especially when grieving.

“Major family milestones are good opportunities to review whether your estate planning tools are due for some tending,” Eglash said. “Or it’s a good time to get started for those who’ve deferred planning.”

One option for young adult children is a revocable living trust, which designates a portion of the estate be given to the children in stages—such as ages 25, 30, and 35, or even older. This trust may also establish guidelines for the money, such as setting education as a priority, or protect the trust property from a child’s creditors. A living trust is established when it is signed, and it can be administered privately, with the help of family advisors, to benefit the entire family.

This milestone is also a good time for adult children to create their own powers of attorney for health care, which designates who would make medical decisions for them if they are unable to do so. That young adult can also be added as a decision maker on your own power of attorney. Additionally, young adults should authorize the sharing of medical information with parents about important health issues, since this is no longer a given once a child turns 18.

In the end, Eglash said, “Great estate plans hand down values, not just property.”  

Empty nesters: do we need to update our estate plan?Information provided by Heidi Eglash, La Crosse Estate Planning Lawyer. For a wills and trusts lawyer in La Crosse, call her at 608-784-5678.

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