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Estate planning: Start young and get a head start

There are many people who state when you should, or should not, begin estate planning. There are guidelines to begin in your 30s or 40s. There are suggestions to start when you have children or a family to protect.

The reality is that you should start as soon as you can, no matter what your situation is. Once you turn 18, your life is in your hands, and that means you should establish what you want to have happen if you are too ill to take care of yourself or die unexpectedly.

Isn't starting young costly and with little reward?

No. No matter how much you have in the bank or in assets, you need to protect yourself. Even if you don't have anything financially or physically to protect, you still need to protect yourself. Part of your estate plan is determining whom you want as your health care proxy.

Another part is a basic will that doles out any possessions you leave behind if you're killed or die unexpectedly. Setting up your power of attorney is also important, so there is someone who can handle your finances if you're unable to do so yourself.

Do you need an attorney to begin estate planning?

Some estate planning can be done independently, but it's best to begin working with an attorney when you can. Do-it-yourself documentation can be great with the right guidance, but if you make a mistake, it could mean that all the work you put into your estate plan becomes invalidated.

Starting your estate planning with an attorney has benefits, too. Not only do you have time to get to know your attorney and develop a relationship over time as you develop your estate plan, but you also get to build up your estate plan piece by piece. That way, even if cost is a concern, you can do what you can afford each time you meet.

Everyone needs an estate plan, whether you're 19 and living on your own or 59 and married with children. People's situations are different, but that doesn't mean going without an estate plan is a good idea. At the very least, take the time to set up your power of attorney and health care proxy, so you know that you will be taken care of if you fall ill or can't make decisions on your own without the support of others.

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