There’s no one right way to be single. You might be happily divorced, unhappily widowed or both. You could be committed to a long-term companion, parenting multiple kids on your own or blissfully, completely unpartnered. But no matter who shares your bed, you share your life with people you care about – family members, close friends, beloved coworkers. When you die, which of them do you want to inherit your record collection? Who should be entrusted to love and care for your pets? Should your bank account go to one person, or do you want it to be split among your most favorite charities? These are the questions you can answer with estate planning.
In some ways, estate planning for single persons isn’t very different than it is for married couples. Singletons do get a few bonuses, though. Not only is the process often simpler and quicker for one person than it is for married couples, but you won’t have to coordinate your plans with a spouse. If you want to leave every penny you have to a charity that knits clothing for naked mole rats, well – that’s entirely up to you. The biggest mistake you can make around estate planning as a single person is to not do it at all.
Yes, You Still Need a Will
Estate planning for a single person isn’t radically different than it is for married individuals. Generally it makes sense for every adult to have their own will, regardless of marital status. This step might be especially important for unmarried people, in fact. One reason has to do with determining who inherits your belongings and money. Your state’s intestacy laws come into play if you die without a will. These are the laws that determine who inherits your assets, and what share they receive, if you die intestate (without a will).
In Massachusetts, the assets of a person who dies intestate and without a spouse would pass to their descendants first. If there are no descendants, the estate would instead pass to the person’s surviving parent/s. If there are no surviving parents, assets would pass to the parents’ descendants. Say a single, childless person has very close friends but a strained relationship with her biological relatives. By dying intestate, this person’s assets would go to those relatives instead of to her closest friends or to a personally meaningful charity. Making a will is important if you want to pass your assets to the people who matter most to you, not just those who are the most closely related to you.
Keep Your Plans Simple
One of the nice things about estate planning for single persons is that this process may be simpler and quicker than it is when two people’s finances and potentially disparate opinions are involved. This is a chance to make decisions that entirely reflect your priorities. Your estate planning professionals will help you make the right choices for you. Generally, though, it makes sense for a single person to streamline their estate plans. Be wary of splitting your money among too many buckets. Focus on a few important objectives instead of crafting complex financial plans that cause headaches later.
Think About Who You Trust Most
Naming representatives to act on your behalf is an especially important part of estate planning for a single person. Married people typically name their spouses to act in these roles, but you can choose different people to serve different purposes while making your estate plans. You may need to choose an executor for your will, plus people to make financial or medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
Maybe you have a money-savvy cousin that you want to make financial decisions for you, while you trust a close friend to be your executor and want your boyfriend or girlfriend to be your medical proxy. You’ll get the chance to make those wishes known during estate planning, by creating documents including a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. If you don’t record those wishes in your estate planning documents, the courts may appoint one of your relatives to fulfill these roles.
While estate planning, you may also review beneficiary designations for any accounts you have. This allows you to decide exactly who inherits your retirement, life insurance and other accounts. If you’re divorced and previously set up any of those accounts while married, you may want to make sure that your former spouse is not named as a beneficiary.
Don’t Forget to Update Regularly
As you may know, estate planning isn’t a one-time event. Plans should be reviewed frequently and updated whenever significant life events or financial changes occur. Married couples may have to make these updates more frequently because changes to either spouse’s circumstances could require changes be made to both of their estate plans. Still, a single person may have to revisit their estate plans several times. If the person you designated as the executor of your will dies before you, for example, you’ll need to make a new choice.
Single But Not Solo: More Considerations
The close relationships in your life might compel you to set up some additional kinds of protection while estate planning. For example, singles who have beloved pets may want to establish pet trusts, which Massachusetts law now allows. This kind of trust allows an owner to put aside money for the care of their pets, should the animal/s outlive them. The owner appoints a trustee to manage the money and a caretaker to manage the pet’s care, secure in the knowledge that their animal companions will have everything they need.
Of course, a single parent will also have additional estate planning needs specific to their children. How a single parent and their estate planning attorney approach estate planning depends on factors including whether the kids are minors and whether there is another parent or parent in the picture. Would you want your kids to live full-time with their other parent? How would you like to set up financial support for the kids, and would you want to provide anything for your ex? These are the kinds of things you might discuss during estate planning.
Get Professional Help
Going through the estate planning process without a spouse next to you may seem daunting at first. When you partner with thoughtful and experienced estate planning attorneys, you’ll have someone supportive on your side from the very first meeting to the last signature. The team at Ladimer Law will be with you every step of the way, answering your questions and helping you craft the plans that best reflect your priorities.
How can your estate plans be set up to benefit the people you love the most? Contact Ladimer Law today to get started.
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Ladimer Law specializes in estate planning. We protect our clients, their heirs, and their assets by listening closely, knowing the law, and executing estate plans that fit and evolve.