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Yes, you still need an estate plan even if you’re single, without children
August 3, 2023
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, unlike single people, the law may provide for who should make financial or medical decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated and who should inherit their property if they die.
Who will inherit your assets?
As a result, it is 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 pass outside of probate through beneficiary designations (like life insurance, retirement plans, etc.), absent a will, probate assets will pass through the laws of intestate succession.
Intestacy laws vary from state to state, but generally they provide for assets to go to the deceased’s spouse and children. Alabama law generally provides that if someone dies without a will (intestate), the probate estate is distributed amongst the surviving spouse and their children. If, however, you are single with no children, 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 rather than based on the intestacy laws.
Who will make financial decisions on your behalf?
It’s also a good idea to sign a durable general 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 and unable to act for yourself.
Although the law varies from state to state, typically, without a power of attorney, a court would have to appoint a conservator 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 as the conservator must be bonded and is subject to court supervision.
Who will make medical decisions on your behalf?
You should also prepare a living will or an advance directive for health care to ensure that your wishes regarding medical care — particularly end of life decisions like 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.
If you fall into the category of being single without children, we can help draft an estate plan that’s best suited for you. Please contact one of our estate planning attorneys: Debby Spain, Steve Wiggins, Raley Wiggins, Russ Russell or Caty Richardson.