There’s a common misconception that only married couples with children need estate plans. In fact, estate planning may be even more important for single people without children. Why? Because for married couples, the law makes certain assumptions about who should make financial or medical decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated and who should inherit their property if they die.
Who’ll inherit your assets?
It’s critical for single people to execute a will that specifies how, and to whom, their assets should be distributed when they die. Although certain types of assets can pass to your intended recipient(s) through beneficiary designations, absent a will, many types of assets will pass through the laws of intestate succession.
Those laws vary from state to state, but generally they provide for assets to go to the deceased’s spouse or children. For example, the law might provide that if someone dies intestate, half of the estate goes to his or her spouse and half goes to the children. If you’re single with no children, however, these laws set out rules for distributing your assets to your closest relatives, such as your parents or siblings. Or, if you have no living relatives, your assets may go to the state.
By preparing a will, you can ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, whether to family, friends or charitable organizations.
Who’ll make financial decisions on your behalf?
It’s a good idea to sign a durable power of attorney. This document appoints someone you trust to manage your investments, pay your bills, file your tax returns and otherwise make financial decisions should you become incapacitated.
Although the law varies from state to state, typically, without a power of attorney, a court would have to appoint someone to make these decisions on your behalf. Not only will you have no say in who the court appoints, but the process can be costly and time consuming.
Who’ll make medical decisions on your behalf?
You should prepare a living will, a health care directive (also known as a medical power of attorney), or both to ensure that your wishes regarding medical care — particularly resuscitation and other extreme lifesaving measures — are carried out in the event you’re incapacitated. These documents can also appoint someone you trust to make medical decisions that aren’t expressly addressed.
Absent such instructions, the laws in some states allow a spouse, children or other “surrogates” to make these decisions. In the absence of a suitable surrogate, or in states without such laws, medical decisions are generally left to the judgment of health care professionals or court-appointed guardians.
Contact us if you fall into the category of being single without children. We can help draft an estate plan that’s best suited for you.