Estate planning is critical for singles, even more than for married couples—and it has nothing to do with whom you’ll leave assets to when you die. A recent article from AARP, “6 Estate Planning Tips for Singles,” explains how estate planning addresses support during challenging life events. Unfortunately, at Beck & Lenox Estate Planning and Elder Law, we have seen the undue stress and harm caused by accidents and other tragic situations involving singles who have done no estate planning.
Estate planning addresses medical and financial decisions for an incapacitated person. For singles, these may be more complex questions to answer.
Whether someone has never married or is divorced or widowed, these are challenging questions to answer. However, they must be documented. In addition, singles with minor children need to nominate a trusted person who can care for their children if they cannot. Estate planning addresses all of these issues.
To be sure you complete this process, start with a conversation with an experienced estate planning attorney. This will help with accountability, ensuring that you start and finish the process.
Here are some pointers for singles who keep putting this vital task off:
What would happen if you don’t leave clear instructions about who will make medical decisions in case of incapacity? A doctor who doesn’t know your wishes will decide for you. If you don’t want to be placed on a ventilator for artificial breathing or fed by a stomach tube while in a coma, the decision will be made regardless of your wishes.
Dying without a will is known as dying “intestate.” All of your assets will be distributed according to the intestate succession laws in your state. If no relatives come forward to claim your property, the state receives your assets. This is not what most people want.
Part of your estate plan includes naming a personal representative—an executor—who will oversee your affairs after your death. You’ll want to designate someone who is organized, has good judgment and can handle financial matters. You should also name a backup, so that if the first person cannot or does not wish to serve, there will be someone else to take control. Otherwise, the court will name someone who doesn’t even know you to take on this task. It’s better to designate someone than leave this to the state.
Your estate plan includes the following:
Last will and testament. This is where you nominate your executor, heirs and how your assets will be distributed. You can also appoint a guardian for minor children. Note that anyone named as a beneficiary on a retirement, insurance policy, or investment account supersedes any instructions in your will, so be sure to update those and check on them every few years to be sure they are still aligned with your wishes.
Living trust. This is a legal entity owning assets to be given to beneficiaries, managed by a trustee of your choosing, and avoids the delays and costs of probate.
Financial Power of Attorney (FPOA). This document authorizes someone you name to act as your agent and make financial decisions if you cannot. An FPOA can prevent delays in accessing bank and investment accounts and paying your bills. The FPOA ends upon your death.
Living will or advance health care directive. These documents allow you to designate someone to communicate your health care wishes when you cannot. For example, you can include instructions on pain management, organ donation and your wishes for life support measures.
Health care power of attorney (HPOA). Like the living will, which is more associated with end-of-life care, the HPOA lets someone make medical treatment decisions on their behalf. Beck & Lenox incorporates the health care directives into the HPOA.
Be sure to communicate your wishes with family and friends. Tell your executor where your documents may be found and provide them with the information they’ll need so they may act on your behalf. If you have not started on an estate plan, now is the time to do that. Remember, estate planning is critical for singles; it’s the right thing to do! Your friends at Beck & Lenox offer you a free consultation by phone with one of our attorneys to discuss your needs and concerns. After the phone conversation, you will be invited to a more in-depth consultation in our office if you are ready to take action. That is also free. You can schedule the phone consultation here.
Reference: AARP (April 7, 2023) “6 Estate Planning Tips for Singles”