Your marital status, doesn’t change how important estate planning is

Although there is a huge amount of emphasis in estate planning of those who have children or have been divorced or are married, estate planning and drafting a will is just as important for those who are single and without children for many reasons. 

The first reason is ambiguity. That’s what a will is designed to avoid. It is supposed to take the guess work away from who gets what and allows your will to be done when you are not around. If you are married and do not have a will, it is assumed that your assets go to your spouse and children but if you are single, those who inherit your assets are much less likely to be able to have any claim to them if they are not immediate kin. 

Also, if you are single you are likely to have more assets than someone who is not because of the additional expense of child care. You want to make sure that your assets end up with the right people instead of just going to the state. 
These days, more people are living single than ever before. In 1970, just about one- third of Americans 15 and older were single, according to U.S. census data. Today, that number’s closer to 50 percent.

Whether never married, divorced or widowed, singles need to pay just as much attention to their estate planning as married folks, as highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Single people face unique estate planning issues that require advanced planning, time and the help of an experienced professional.

Some of the most complicated estate planning issues for singles include:

Heirs: When married people die without a will, their assets typically pass to their spouse. But what about single people? Assets are usually distributed along bloodlines, so children (if any), followed by parents, siblings or other relatives, would be the default heirs. If a single person has no living relatives, his or her assets might wind up with the state.

To ensure their assets wind up with the relatives, loved ones and charitable organizations that they’d prefer, single people should create a will and/or an irrevocable trust that specifically states how they’d like their assets to be distributed.

Decision makers: A health event or other incident could leave any of us incapacitated. For single people, it’s important to designate a trusted loved one or friend to manage assets and health care decisions in case of an emergency. Without proper directives, those decisions could fall to distant relatives or state-appointed strangers.

Single people should sign a general power of attorney, an advance health care directive, and a HIPAA authorization allowing a loved one of choice to make financial and medical decisions on their behalf.

Beneficiaries: Certain accounts, like retirement plans, require account holders to designate a beneficiary when they enroll. That beneficiary designation is typically upheld when the account holder dies, even if he or she gave the account to someone else in a will.

Previously married or widowed singles should reevaluate all of their beneficiary designations to ensure accounts won’t be given to former spouses if that’s against their wishes.

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