Welcome to your 30s!  No matter what your family and living situation, it’s time to think about protecting assets and planning for the future. Whether you are single with a rental apartment, living with a partner, or have a spouse, children and a home, there are some basic steps you can take to ensure the future security of your immediate family.

Here are the basic documents you should have, and why:

Last Will & Testament: If you have a spouse and children, a will ensures they are taken care of and that your estate is administered and distributed as you intended. Even if you are single, preparing a Will lets you take control of the distribution of your assets. Detailing your wishes removes any doubt or confusion amongst family members and reduces the risk of inter-family fighting. If you have children, a guardian must be appointed for the children and a trust for financial support for minors should be created under the will. Trusts may need to be created as state laws restrict property or money outright to a minor. If a trust under the will is not created, or created improperly, a court appointed GAL (Guardian ad litem) would be appointed and he or she would decide what’s in the best financial interest of the minor.

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Power of Attorney (POA): This document appoints the healthy spouse, family member, or other adult to make decisions (legal and financial) for the incapacitated person. For example, if you are in a coma after an accident and your spouse needs to sell your house, you need a POA if both of your names are on the deed. While a spouse can make withdrawals from an account or write checks, without a POA, he/she cannot sell anything jointly owned without your signature.

Living Will: Also known as a Healthcare proxy or advanced medical directive, this document allows you to detail your end of life wishes in various scenarios including medical intervention and hospice. This gives invaluable guidance to family members and healthcare professionals and in turn, alleviates the stress of making these crucial decisions within a family.

I also recommend that you consult with your Financial Advisor to discuss 529 accounts for any children and that you consider a Life Insurance Trust for any life insurance policies of $1 million or more.  A 529 account is a tax efficient way to earmark money for children’s education. For those with a spouse and children, a Life Insurance Trust ensures your Life Insurance proceeds first go to your surviving spouse and then to your children; income tax and Estate tax free. It protects these proceeds from your surviving spouse re-marrying and having all assets spilt amongst your surviving spouse and his or her new spouse.

The advice above is intended to help you avoid unintended consequences and protect your assets and wishes exactly as you determine. These and many other documents should be updated every 3-5 years as family dynamics and careers change and priorities shift.