We all know that accidents and illnesses happen. But when younger people pass away or become incapacitated, their loved ones are often left to deal with complex legal and financial concerns at a time when they are already overwhelmed by grief and loss.

A few months ago in Poughkeepsie, NY, Shawn and Patricia Wonderly were killed when their car was hit during a police chase, leaving their eight and seven-year-old children injured, traumatized and parentless. It is doubtful they expected to leave their children so abruptly or so soon. Nor is it likely they had all their affairs in order at the time.

When younger people leave behind a disorganized estate and no instructions as to what to do regarding medical decisions, management of assets and care of children, the feelings of loved ones may become secondary to masses of paperwork and entirely preventable litigation. Take Terry Schiavo, a young woman who spent more than seven years in a persistently vegetative state, while her husband and parents engaged in a heated, widely publicized legal battle regarding the termination of her life support. Her signature on a single document could have easily prevented this battle.

Estate planning is just as important for a young person as it is for an older one. A basic estate plan assures that you are the one who makes the following decisions for yourself:

Who will handle your money if you are incapacitated
Who will make health care decisions for you if you’re not able to
Who will handle your estate
Who will receive your assets and personal possessions
Who will raise your minor children, and how the money you leave for their upbringing and education will be managed
All of these choices should be put down in writing now, through an Advanced Directive for Health Care Decisions (Living Will), a Durable Power of Attorney for Assets and Finances, and a Last Will and Testament (with or without a Testamentary Trust). A lawyer can also assist in reducing or eliminating taxes in larger estates. Our estate planning attorneys can offer suggestions and options that will make the process relatively simple, straightforward and painless.

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