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"I'm too young to think about a Will"

“I’m too young to have a Will.”  It’s a common refrain.  After all, with increasing life expectancy, the odds are in your favor.  Couple this with the inherent discomfort in discussing one’s own death or incapacity, and it is enough to cause many to put off any thought of estate planning until they near retirement age. However, there are fundamental reasons why a younger person should consider a Will, not the least of which is the fact that the law’s ‘one size fits all’ approach to intestate (no Will) estates is very often not what they would expect or want.

A younger person likely hasn’t accumulated as much wealth as when they near retirement.  But, that does not mean that they shouldn’t have a plan for the assets that they have earned. If a person dies without a Will in Massachusetts, the estate Will pass pursuant to the Commonwealth’s intestate law. Too often this means the person(s) you would choose to inherit your property might never see it.

Committed but unmarried couples have no rights with respect to the estate of their loved-one.  Many are surprised to learn that in Massachusetts common law marriage does not exist, and therefore no amount of time together will create intestate rights.

Many married couples want all of their assets to pass to their surviving spouse at death, and assume the law without a Will provides for such disposition. Others may want to pass the estate directly to the children.  But the law may pass only a portion of the estate to their children or spouse, depending on the circumstances.  For example, if a person dies with children born of the marriage but their surviving spouse has a child from another relationship, the surviving spouse will only receive $100,000 plus one-half of the remainder of the estate.  The other half will go to the children. When you take into consideration that some assets don’t pass through an estate, such as joint assets and assets with beneficiary designations, the situation can get more complex. A discussion of assets, how they are held, and who the person wants those assets to go to is essential to ensure a person’s estate is administered as they desire.

For adults with minor children, a Will serves as the document used to nominate a guardian of the children should the parents pass. This is the person who will take custody of and legal authority over the children. After the death of the parents, without this guardian designation, various relatives from either side of the family may feel strongly about guardianship of the children. This too often results in a bitter feud at an already devastating time for the children.

Where minor children inherit, a Will allows you to determine, based on your knowledge of your children, the appropriate amount and age for distribution of each child’s share of an estate.  Without a Will, there is no way to direct when and how a child should receive their share, and what might have been a head start in life can quickly evaporate.

You are never too young to think about a Will.  I am happy to discuss your situation and help you achieve your estate-planning goals.

Martin Winstead