Single people need estate plans, too

An estate plan is the best way to protect your safety and your legacy

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that estate planning is only important if you have a partner or children that you want to pass something on to. In reality, though, it is just as important - and perhaps even more important - for single people to have an estate plan in place.

Avoiding intestate succession

When a person dies without a will in place, their assets are distributed according to a formula set forth in state law. This is called "intestate succession."

Basically, intestate succession distributes a person's assets to their closest living relatives. If no living relatives can be located, the property will go to the state instead.

Most single people would rather have their assets distributed in some other way. For example, you might want to leave your favorite piece of art to a friend who really loved it, or provide some money to support a cause you believe in. Perhaps you'd prefer to leave money to your nieces and nephews instead of having it go to your siblings. Or, you might be estranged from your family altogether and do not want them to inherit anything.

Every person should have a will in place to ensure that their assets are passed on in accordance with their wishes. Additionally, it may make sense to use trusts to limit estate taxes and probate costs. Your attorney will work with you to determine the best plan for your unique circumstances.

Planning for incapacity

An estate plan can also help ensure that you are taken care of should you ever become incapacitated.

Without an obvious next-of-kin like a spouse or a child, doctors may have a hard time locating a next-of-kin who can authorize medical treatment on your behalf. Even if they could, there's no guarantee that person would know or respect your wishes.

A power of attorney for health care allows you to nominate someone to make medical decisions on your behalf, if needed. It also allows you to express your wishes in writing, so that there is no confusion about what should be done.

It is also critical to have someone who can pay your bills and manage your finances if you incapacitated. Even if you have a close friend or loved one who would do this for you, they will not be able to access your accounts without legal authorization. A power of attorney for property is the best way to accomplish this.

If you want to, you can name different people to manage your health care and your finances. If you'd prefer not to ask a friend or relative to shoulder these obligations, your attorney can help you find a trustworthy professional fiduciary to serve in this role.

So, how do you start?

The first, and arguably most important, step to creating an estate plan is finding an attorney you trust and feel comfortable working with. Your attorney will talk with you to understand your goals, and will walk you through your options for achieving those outcomes. Together, you can create an estate plan that keeps you safe and protects your legacy.

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