When should I start my estate plan?

The best time to start an estate plan is now, while you have the capacity to do so. Estate planning isn’t only about deciding what to do if you die; it’s about making plans to take care of yourself, your affairs, and your loved ones if you should become temporarily or permanently disabled or incapacitated.

We all tend to think we don’t have to worry about this sort of thing until we’re old or sick, but we know from experience that this simply is not the case. If you drive a car, ride in a motor vehicle of any kind, fly, take medicinal drugs, or otherwise live a normal life, you could be in an accident, suffer a sudden drug reaction, or catch the latest superbug like SARS or bird flu. What will happen to your life and your affairs if you’re in a coma for 2 months?

An estate plan will allow you to name the person to oversee your medical care and make health care decisions for you. If you don’t appoint someone and there is no family member to fill this role, the courts could appoint a stranger to decide what kind of care you should receive and whether you should receive life support or not.

We also don’t know when we’re going to die, so if you have family or loved ones you want to see cared for or have property of sentimental value you want to go to a specific person or persons, it makes sense to make your plans right away. Effective planning can save money in taxes and probate costs that can go to people you care about instead. If you die without a will, your property could go to people you don’t want to have it and property you wanted to pass on could be sold to pay taxes and costs.

The only time that you can prepare and implement an estate plan is while you are alive and have legal capacity to enter into a contract. If you wait until you are unable to manage your own affairs or suffer from some other disability that affects your legal capacity, it will be too late to make an effective estate plan. Any plan you make at that point may be effectively challenged by those who assert that you lacked capacity at the time the documents were created or that you were subject to fraud, coercion or undue influence during the creation and implementation of your plan.

So, again, the best time to start an estate plan is now.