When you’re 40, chances are you’re not the same person you were at 20, and your estate plan should reflect the changes you’ve experienced. Here’s a rundown of the estate-planning tools you should have if you’re just beginning your life’s journey, midway through or approaching the final leg.

Young, single and carefree
If you’re over 18 and unmarried, execute four documents to make sure your loved ones can carry out your wishes:
1. A general durable power of attorney enables you to designate who will control your finances if you become incapacitated, whether it’s your parents or another loved one.
2. A health care proxy allows you to designate who will make medical decisions on your behalf in the same situation.
3. A living will lets you lay out your wishes regarding life-sustaining medical treatment.
4. Finally, a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, release allows your designated agent to discuss your medical condition without violating patient privacy laws. Without those documents, your loved ones may be forced to go to court to seek guardianship over you to assert those controls.

Single, but committed
If you’re in a long-term relationship but unmarried, you need to create a will or trust if you want your life partner to inherit your possessions.

We’re engaged!
A prenuptial agreement isn’t only for people who have a lot of money; it’s essential for everybody. A lot of people divorce because they’ve never had conversations about money. A prenuptial agreement forces people to engage in this financial conversation.

Just married
Revise your durable power of attorney, health care proxy and HIPAA release if you want there to be no question that your spouse should control your financial and medical decisions if you become incapacitated. If you don’t already have one, this is also the time for a will or trust. Rather than risk a fight between your spouse and parents over who should inherit, have a will or trust definitively state who should receive your assets. Also, if you own a home, you should purchase a term life insurance policy that will pay off your mortgage if one spouse dies.
Finally, change your beneficiary designations on such things as health insurance and investment plans so they pass to your spouse. A lot of people think when they get married, those things change on their own, and they don’t.

If you have children, update your will to nominate a guardian to step in if you and your spouse pass away. You should also include provisions in your will or a separate revocable trust so that your child doesn’t inherit everything at the age of 18. A revocable trust allows you to appoint a trustee to handle any money your child inherits. The trustee can use it to support your child as the child grows up, and you can specify at what age your child can receive the money, along with any reasons your child should get it before that age, such as starting a business or buying a house. You can also specify that the trustee can withhold money if your child has a gambling problem, is in the midst of a divorce, or there’s another situation that makes it inappropriate to inherit.
You’ll also need a separate guardianship nomination — sometimes called an emergency guardianship proxy — that nominates a guardian to care for your child if both parents are incapacitated. That’s helpful in simpler situations as well, such as when both parents take a vacation and a child needs emergency medical treatment.
Each time you have another child, be sure your estate planning documents address all of your children, and don’t forget to increase your life insurance. You need about $1 million to care for a child from birth to college. If you have a special-needs child, you should have your attorney set up a special-needs trust, which allows you to provide for your child without disqualifying the child from government benefits.

Divorce and Second-Marriages
If you’re separating or divorcing, you probably don’t want your spouse to still have all the authority to make decisions on your behalf and access your medical and financial information. You should revoke those documents, including beneficiary designations, or sign new ones. A divorce decree doesn’t magically change those things.
If you remarry, revise your will and trust documents to reflect the proper beneficiaries. Most people want to share with their new spouse but also want to provide for their separate children at their death.

As you reach your 40s and 50s, you should consider purchasing long-term care insurance, which covers the cost of long-term care or a nursing home.

Review designations on your durable power of attorney, health care proxy, and HIPAA release to be sure the people you’ve named are still in your life and willing and able to serve in that role. A lot of people at this stage also start planning their funeral to make sure that’s in order.

No matter what your age or asset level, you need to have some sort of estate plan in place. Please take the opportunity to call our office and schedule a free consultation to discover how best to protect yourself, your assets, and your family.