If you are single, you may not think you need to plan your estate. But single people have as much reason to plan as anyone else. Estate planning not only involves determining where your assets will go when you die, it also helps you plan for what will happen should you become incapacitated, perhaps as the result of a stroke, dementia, or injury. If you don’t make a plan, you will have no say in what happens to you or your assets.
Without a properly executed will in place when you die, your estate will be distributed according to state law. If you are single, most states provide that your estate will go to your children, parents, or other living relatives. If you have absolutely no living relatives, then your estate will go to the state. This may not be what you want to have happen to your assets. You may have charities, close friends, or particular relatives that you want to provide for after your death.
If you become incapacitated without any planning, a court will have to determine who will have the authority to handle your finances and make health care decisions for you. The court may not choose the person you would have chosen. In addition, going to court to set up a guardianship is time-consuming and expensive.
All this can be avoided with the simple step of executing a durable power of attorney, allowing a person you appoint — your “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” — to act in your place for financial purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated. The person you choose will be able to step in and take care of your financial affairs if need be.
In addition, you should have a health care proxy. Similar to a power of attorney, a health care proxy allows an individual to appoint someone else to act as his or her agent for medical, as opposed to financial, decisions. Unlike married individuals, unmarried partners or friends usually can’t make decisions for each other without signed authorization.
You should also consider an advance directive giving instructions on what type of medical interventions you would like if you aren’t able to express your own wishes when decisions need to be made.
Single individuals who are divorced need to make especially certain that the beneficiary designations on their IRAs, life insurance policies, and relevant bank accounts are up-to-date. If you don’t, your ex-spouse could get the funds. Also, for single people of means, opportunities to avoid state or federal estate taxes can be more limited than for married couples, although advance planning can close the gap.
In short, proper planning is a good idea for everyone. Contact your attorney to help you create an estate plan.