Why estate planning is important regardless of your age or wealth

You're never too young or too old, too rich or too poor to start estate planning, according to Jennifer Cona, a managing partner at Genser Cona Elder Law on Long Island.

Both Jennifer and senior associate Marcus O'Toole-Gelo say the holidays are a great time to start talking to your loved ones about estate planning, especially aging relatives and parents. Having a successful conversation is all about the approach.

Jennifer says you should always make suggestions, not demands. She has found that a great way to start the conversation with both clients and family members is to mention what you're doing. Perhaps say something like, "I just took care of my own estate planning. Have you done anything? Maybe we should talk about it."

Many people think that as they age, they need a will. But that's just the beginning. Marcus says core estate planning includes a will, power of attorney, health care proxy, and asset protection.

For most people, the asset they most want to protect is their home. One of the best ways to do that is through an irrevocable trust, Marcus says. It's better for tax purposes, can protect your home during a healthcare crisis, and doesn't subject your home to your children's creditors.

It's also important to find people you trust to help with finances and health care. Power of attorney is a legal document that appoints a person to handle finances on your behalf.

A healthcare proxy is someone who makes healthcare decisions if you get sick or are in an accident and can't make decisions for yourself.

Marcus says you can choose one person to do both or separate people for each role. They can be family members or trusted friends, but should probably be a younger person who won't be dealing with the same aging issues.

Another thing to remember is that your will doesn't cover everything. Make sure any beneficiaries designated in your retirement plans or life insurance and any additional names on joint bank accounts are up to date. Beneficiaries will get the money in those accounts regardless of what is in your will.

Jennifer says that If all of this sounds overwhelming, don't worry because elder law firms can help you get your ducks in a row.

You just need to know three things before you visit a firm like Genser Cona Elder Law: what assets you have, whose names are on the accounts, and what your wishes are.