5 minute read

Common Estate Planning Questions by Lifestage

Each stage of life presents a different set of financial and estate planning challenges. T&W answers your age-related estate planning questions here!

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

If you’ve been thinking about putting your Estate Plan together - congratulations! You’re getting closer to empowering your financial future and protecting your legacy in profound ways. By establishing an Estate Plan, you get to decide what you want to happen, and when, and how, instead of leaving it all up to chance.

Now that you have the resolve to create an Estate Plan, it’s time to figure out what it should look like. This is a common block that many beginners come up against. What should your Estate Plan look like if you’re 32? 45? 77? Don’t worry, we’re here to help. In this guide, we’re going to address estate planning by lifestage. There’s something for everyone! You’ll find out what action steps you should be considered based on your age. Although no Estate Plan should be the same, it’s always helpful to have a framework to use as a starting off point. Feel free to skip ahead to the section that addresses your age group. 

At What Age Should You Start Estate Planning?

One of the most common questions we receive at Trust & Will is, “at what age should I start estate planning?” Most legal and financial advisors agree that estate planning should begin as early as the age of 18.

That’s because when you turn 18, you’re legally an adult and therefore responsible for your own finances. You’re also legally responsible for your own healthcare and Power of Attorney.

If you’re an adult and haven’t established your Estate Plan yet, you should start now. If you’ve been procrastinating, there are a number of life events that warrant that you take action in particular. We go over them in our “When Should You Start Estate Planning?” guide. Some common ones include buying a home, getting married, and having a child. 

Once you have your Estate Plan in place, it’s recommended that you review it every three to five years. Know that the strategies you’ll implement, and thus the steps you’ll take will shift and change depending on your stage in life.

And thus, we are happy to bring to you our guide on estate planning steps to take in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond!

Estate Planning Steps to Take in Your 20s

Your 20s are an exciting time of life. You’re likely entering your first professional job and just starting to learn “how to adult.” Hopefully, you’re also having lots of fun. You have the rest of your life for settling down and being responsible. Here, your Estate Plan begins to take shape, although it need not be too complicated. 

Here are a few suggestions for your age group:

  • Establish your Last Will and Testament

  • Explain how you want your assets distributed after your death

  • Designate a beneficiary for your first 401(k) and savings account

  • Set up a Power of Attorney whom you trust to handle your business and financial needs should you become incapacitated

  • Create Advance Directive documents that designates a Health Care Power of Attorney and instructions on how to handle your medical needs should you become incapacitated

Estate Planning Steps to Take in Your 30s

As you enter the next decade, you begin to experience more of what life has to offer. You may have begun to climb the ladder in your career. Perhaps you even get married and start having children. Not ready for kids yet? Maybe you just adopted your own pet within the past few years. If you’re lucky, maybe you’re in the process of buying a new house. All these major life events require changes and updates to your Estate Plan:

  • Update the list of assets and distribution instructions in your Last Will and Testament

  • Review your beneficiary designations and update as needed

  • Set up a guardianship for your pets, children, or both

  • Decide what type of deed you’d want to use to pass your house to loved one

  • Research and understand your spouse’s rights if you were to pass away

  • Review and update your Estate Planning documents as needed

Estate Planning Steps to Take in Your 40s

By the time you reach your 40s, life probably looks very different from your 20s. Maybe you’ve built up a substantial net worth. Perhaps you’ve gotten a divorce. Maybe your kids are older and you’re getting ready to send them off to college. If you haven’t created an Estate Plan yet, this is the peak time in your life to start.

The documents you use in your Estate Plan will likely be the same as the ones you established in your 30s. However, your life may look quite different now and it could be time for a major overhaul.

  • Review and update your existing Will, Power of Attorney, Advance Directive and Guardianship documents

  • Refresh your inventory of property and assets and update your Estate Plan 

  • Closely review your beneficiaries who stand to inherit property

  • Remove any beneficiaries who should no longer inherit assets from you

  • Talk to your parents about getting their own Estate Plan in order

  • Consider establishing a Trust

Estate Planning Steps to Take in Your 50s and 60s

As you enter your 50s and 60s, the key is to evaluate your Estate Plan with your age in mind. While your youth was on your side in the past, it’s right around now that things start to feel a little more real and serious. If you haven’t been already, now is the time to really start thinking about your future. 

  • Schedule reminders to review and update your Estate Plan more regularly

  • Consider setting up a Trust and move assets into the Trust

  • Strengthen your Advance Directive documents with expanded instructions for healthcare

  • Review Guardianship documents and determine whether still necessary

  • Add any grandchildren as beneficiaries

  • Review your investment strategy and financial plan

Estate Planning Steps to Take in Your 70s and Beyond

Your golden years should be when you get to kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you began estate planning at an early age, it likely means you also set plans for retirement early as well. Hopefully, you set yourself up for success. Perhaps you even consider yourself a bit of an estate planning pro by now. Here are some action items to consider in your 70s and beyond:

  • Review and update your plan as needed

  • Scrutinize the language of your plan and make sure it is clear as possible

  • Discuss your estate plan with your loved ones and encourage them to establish their own

  • Make sure your estate plan includes a long-term care plan

  • Meet with your Healthcare and Durable Powers of Attorney to make sure they understand your goals and wishes and are still capable of carrying out their roles

More Common Estate Planning Questions Around Age 

Now that you have some estate planning steps for your age group, you should have plenty to work on. However, it’s completely normal to have lots of questions throughout the process. 

Although you’ll often need to consult a professional or use your best judgment to make a decision, you can also find the answer if it’s a common question. Here are some age-related estate planning questions and answers below. 

At What Age Should You Put Your Assets in a Trust?

Although it’s never too early to transfer assets into a Trust, generally, it’s recommended that you start in your 30s and 40s. By this time, you will likely have accumulated enough assets such that Trust protection would be beneficial. 

You can include a variety of assets in your Trust, such as real estate and investments. If something were to happen to you, your Trustee (someone you designate) would be responsible for managing your assets and distributing them to your beneficiaries. 

Estate Planning Tips for Millennials 

In our 2021 Estate Planning Study, we discovered that millennials are establishing their estate plans at unprecedented rates. Whether it be due to the COVID-19 pandemic, political tensions, or a trend toward “death positivity,” the data shows that millennials are catching on that estate plans are one of the surefire ways they can protect themselves and loved ones.

Most millennials start off by completing a Will-based Estate Plan. Wills allow you to distribute your assets and specify your final arrangements. They also allow you to appoint guardians for your pets and children. 

Millennials should also consider setting up a Power of Attorney and Advance Directive. A Power of Attorney enables a trusted person (who you get to pick) to carry out your business and financial tasks on your behalf if you were to become incapacitated. An Advance Directive lets you specify what you’d want your medical care to look like, and who you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf. Anyone who sets up these documents, in addition to their Will, would have a very well-rounded Estate Plan for a young adult.

Start Your Estate Plan Today with Trust & Will

If you take anything away from this guide, it should be that there’s no reason to wait to set up your Estate Plan. Getting started early means that you’re no longer exposed. Unexpected things can even happen in your 20s, so you’ll be glad that you have an Estate Plan in place and can have peace of mind.

Another argument is that the earlier you start your Estate Plan, the easier it is to build upon it as your life evolves. Getting started when your asset mix and family dynamics are complex would cause anyone to groan. 

Even if you’re late to the game, it’s better late than never. Trust & Will makes it easy and affordable to set up and update your Estate Plan — so much so that there’s really no more excuses for your procrastination. 

We recommend getting started with a Will and then going from there. Once you start building momentum, you’ll discover that you are perfectly capable of creating a robust Estate Plan. We’re always here to help when you encounter any questions. Get started today!

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our Learn Center or chat with a live member support representative!