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Here's why you need an estate plan, even if you're young and poor

If you're in your 20s, you're likely paying off student loan debt, perhaps trying to save up for a better car or even a home and navigating your first job out of college. Likely, the last thing you're thinking about is estate planning. However, you should be.

Estate planning isn't just for people who have boats, beach houses and millions of dollars in assets to bequeath to their loved ones. Estate planning documents let you give people authority to handle decisions about your health care and to take care of your financial obligations like bills and loan payments if you become sick or injured and are in a condition that prohibits you from doing so.

Having the right health care documents is particularly important. You can give your health care proxy instructions for making important medical decisions, such as under what conditions you want to remain on life support. That's not fun to ponder, but would you rather have your family squabbling over your bedside?

Besides designating one or more people to handle medical and financial issues if you can't, with a simple estate plan, you also designate where your assets go. You probably figure that your parents will just get your meager bank accounts. However, without a will in place, they may have to go through probate to do that at a time when they'll no doubt be grieving. Further, the probate process could cost more than the assets you have.

You may not think you have much, but don't you want to be the one to decide where it goes? Do you want your siblings fighting over things that may not have great monetary value, but carry significant sentimental value?

If you have a 401(k) through your employer and/or other types of investment accounts, leaving them to your designated beneficiaries in your will isn't enough. You need to make sure that you've also designated those beneficiaries with the financial entities that hold the accounts.

An estate plan for a young person without significant assets doesn't have to be an expensive proposition. It generally only requires a few documents. While it may be tempting to use one of the many do-it-yourself online options, it's essential to do it right, or you've simply wasted your time. An experienced California estate planning attorney can provide valuable guidance to help make things easier for your loved ones should the unexpected happen.

Source: U.S. News and World Report, "Why You Should Start Estate Planning in Your 20s," Maryalene LaPonsie, accessed Dec. 15, 2017

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