When’s the Best Time to Start Planning?

If I’m a Maui resident interested in planning my estate, when is the best time to start? This is one of the most common (and important) questions. And like most aspects of estate planning, the answer is often controlled by one’s own circumstances and preferences.

From a practical perspective, the best time to plan one’s estate is once you have someone in your life who will be affected if you become incapacitated or die without having done any planning. Therefore, for example, a parent with a young child should consider estate planning, not only to ensure that assets will be available for the child if the parent dies unexpectedly, but also to appoint a “guardian” to raise the child. Another example is a married couple who just purchased a home. In that situation, the couple should consider estate planning to ensure that their property will be distributed upon death to desired beneficiaries, without being subject to Hawaii’s lengthy and time-consuming probate process.

The birth of a child and the purchase of a first home are events which are rarely associated with incapacity or death. On the other hand, the consequences of not planning could be disastrous if death or incapacity strikes unexpectedly in either situation.

The legal standards to sign a Will or a Trust are relatively simple for anyone in good health. Generally, the person needs to know his or her own identity, and be able to identify immediate family members. It would also be important that the person understands his or her own circumstances and surroundings. And of course, the person would need to know what he or she owns, and be able to state a rational plan to distribute assets. These and other applicable requirements are not difficult for most people in good health.

On the other hand, a person suffering from advanced dementia or who has suffered a medical problem might find it very difficult, if not impossible, to answer the same questions. In those situations, there may be serious doubt as to whether the person is legally competent (or even able) to sign a Will and/or a Trust Agreement.

Where estate planning is put off until a crisis arises, other problems often need to be addressed at the same time. For example, someone with a major medical problem may find it difficult if not impossible to accomplish estate planning objectives if long term nursing home care and Medicaid assistance also are needed.

There’s an old saying, “[l]ife is what happens while you’re making other plans.” When it comes to your own family, why leave it to chance?

Note: The information in this article and throughout this website is not intended, and should not under any circumstances be interpreted, as legal advice.  This article is intended only as a general discussion, and should not be read or viewed as a comprehensive analysis of all relevant aspects, of each topic discussed.  The reader is encouraged to consult with legal counsel for assistance with any aspect of the estate planning process, and any other matter of a legal nature

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