Certain decisions are easier and others are more difficult, if someone has no heirs. However, you still need an estate plan to protect yourself in case of incapacity.
If you’ve never had children, then deciding how assets should be distributed and who to distribute them to could lead you to decide to support groups that have meaning to you. A harder decision is who to appoint as a decision maker for medical and financial decisions if you do not have a spouse or children.
CNBC’s recent article, “Planning your estate when you've got no children or heirs,” says there may be no close family members, resulting in questions of who they should leave their estate to. These people often don't know who to name as executor of their will or who to trust to make decisions for them, in the event that they become incapacitated.
Studies show that most childless people don’t make out a will. The issue with having no will (or “dying intestate”) is that the state will decides who gets your assets. Therefore, it is recommended that for those with no family ties or close friends, to focus on your interests and tie them to charitable giving. You can immediately establish your legacy and enjoy it while still living.
Another tough decision is choosing someone to have medical power of attorney, which allows that person to make important health-care decisions if you’re unable to do so. Married couples will usually name each other as their health-care proxy, but after the death of one spouse, the other with no children has the challenge of naming someone else. The same is true for childless singles who never married.
Likewise, a living will details your wishes if you’re on life support or suffer from a terminal illness. It also instructs your proxy's decision making. You also should give someone durable power of attorney to act as your agent if you’re unable to handle your finances. You can designate different people to handle healthcare and financial decisions.
You also need to designate someone to be the executor for your estate. This can be challenging for those without any family. The executor or “personal representative” has the legal authority to handle your estate. It should be someone you trust and someone who has the bandwidth to take on this responsibility.
If you can’t think of a person to name, your bank's trust division may be willing to serve as executor. You may also consider setting up a trust. Remember that some assets have beneficiaries, like 401(k) plans and life insurance policies. These accounts don’t pass through the will.
Whether or not you have children, or a spouse, you still need an estate plan to protect yourself while you are living. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you make the necessary preparations, including making the distribution of assets meaningful.
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