The estate planning discussion isn’t a fun one to have, but it’s important to discuss creating a will, advance health care directive, life insurance, and disability insurance with your loved ones.
A few years ago, my in-laws handed my husband and me a copy of their advance health directive—a legally binding document that outlines a person’s medical wishes should they become incapacitated. It made sense: They’re in their 60s and have likely seen what happens to people without one.
A couple weeks later, my brother-in law talked to us about their will and the arrangements they’d made. They’re only a few years older than us, and I was surprised to hear they already had an official will. I started to wonder: Do my husband and I need a will? What about life insurance? What else do we need?
In your 20s, this kind of thinking is far from your mind. But these are questions that everyone—regardless of age—needs to ask.
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Last Will and Testament
A will is necessary in order to definitively spell out your final wishes. Whether you want to leave your estate to charity or family, a will can help you spell that out in no uncertain terms.
Even though my husband is listed as my beneficiary on all my accounts, we should still have a will. A will allows my/our estate to go through probate court more easily and efficiently, making the entire process better for my loved ones.
If I pass away without a will, probate court will determine how to divide my assets. It takes time for the state to make that determination; a will is the easiest way to communicate where you want your money and property to go. Bottom line: We could get away with not having one, but it would make the transition a lot rougher.
My research shows that I can put together a simple will myself. My husband and I don’t have any property that would be subject to estate tax, in which case a lawyer might be necessary. Wills are relatively simple documents and any lawyers’ fees should be minimal, depending on how complicated your requests are.
Advance Health Care Directive
Most of us envision growing old, but fail to imagine a situation where someone else has to decide where and how we spend our twilight years. That’s the purpose of the advance health care directive—it allows you to spell out your wishes in case the unexpected happens. Remember the Terry Schiavo case—a perfect example of where an advance health care directive could have cleared up any confusion.
I asked my husband what he would want in case the unexpected happens. I hate thinking about him dying, but I know these conversations are important to have and the discussion should focus less on mortality and more on legacy.
Every state has its own requirements for an advance health care directive, and you might need to have it notarized. Once the directive is completed, don’t keep it a secret: Send copies to your doctor and your closest family members (like my in-laws did). You don’t want to go through the work of creating an advance health care directive and forget to put that information in the hands of your loved ones.
As soon as my husband and I got back from our honeymoon, I called our insurance agent to ask about life insurance. We don’t have kids or a house. The most precious thing we own (besides our laptops) is our dog, Lyra.
Whether you’re married or single, life insurance should at least be a consideration. Your financial issues don’t die with you, and no one wants their loved ones to worry about money while they’re mourning.
Life insurance can also help ensure funeral expenses don’t burden those left behind. Depending on the kind of service you want, average funeral costs hover between $7,000 and $10,000. If that’s not the kind of legacy you want to leave, look into getting a life insurance policy.
If you have a mortgage, a life insurance policy is a must. Most couples get a mortgage when they have two incomes, so having a life insurance policy is key for those who don’t want to leave their spouse with insurmountable debt.
Many jobs offer a basic life insurance package as part of their benefits. Check with your HR department to see if you have one. For example, my last full-time job offered a $30,000 package for all employees. If you wanted additional coverage, you could purchase and add it to the same policy.
Make sure to list a beneficiary; that way your wishes will be clear if something happens. If your job doesn’t offer one or you want more coverage, contact your insurance agent. They’ll be able to set you up with an appropriate plan or direct you to someone who can.
If you drive a car, you’re legally required to carry auto insurance. If you have a home or rent an apartment, you’re advised to have homeowners or renters insurance. Today, most people are legally required to have health insurance. But many of us are missing one key coverage area: What if we’re alive, but can no longer work?
I’m a full-time freelance writer and am the breadwinner in our home. I’ve struggled with tendonitis in my wrist for about a year. It hasn’t impeded my ability to write and work, but what if it gets worse? What if I break my arm in a car accident?
That’s where disability insurance comes in. A policy for disability insurance covers your income if you can no longer work. It doesn’t mean you have to be considered fully incapacitated—just that you can no longer perform a job.
It’s important to completely understand what your policy says. Most don’t replace your total salary, so it’s smart to have an emergency fund or back-up plan in place. If you’re working in a physically demanding industry like construction, having a policy is especially vital for your economic safety. The Council for Disability Health estimates that one in four people will become disabled before they reach retirement age.
Like life insurance, your employer may offer disability insurance as part of your benefits package. Your HR department should have more information if you’re eligible for a policy. Some of them may also give you the option to purchase additional coverage if you need it.
There are few things less romantic than discussing what you’d like your husband to do if you fall into a coma, or deciding how much disability insurance you need. But part of being a Grownup is making hard, uncomfortable decisions. Most of these questions can be answered after some thought and consideration; others may take longer to decide.
Getting your affairs in order will leave you prepared for a full life with no nagging “what-ifs” hanging over your head. I feel better knowing what my husband wants, and knowing that we’re prepared for anything life can throw our way is no small comfort.
Zina Kumok is a writer, speaker, and coach.
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While we hope the information in these materials are useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need advice geared to your personal financial situation, you are encouraged to schedule time with a financial planner.