A few months ago, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Single? No Children? No Will? Big Mistake.” I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since. The author writes, “Certain people never reach one of those obvious points in their lives to write one. If you are unmarried in middle age, do not have children and have never had a devastating disease or brush with death, making plans for what happens to your stuff if you’re not around may not feel pressing.”
The author is so right. I have met many people who somehow feel that, because they don’t have children, they don’t need an estate plan. But here’s the thing — people without children may have even MORE need to make a plan that those with kids.
For one thing, all of us, at some point, are going to get sick or otherwise incapacitated, and need someone to act on our behalf — to pay bills, maintain our homes, or make medical decisions. Estate planning is not just about transferring assets when you die, it is also about planning for incapacity. And everyone needs to do that.
Married people can sometimes manage when someone gets sick because they have joint bank accounts. But single people often don’t have joint bank accounts with other people, so if they are in need of someone to take care of their finances they really need to appoint an agent under a Durable Power of Attorney and create an Advance Health Care Directive. And, if they want their close friends to be able to get confidential health care information about them, should they be hospitalized for example, they should also sign HIPPA Waivers. Sometimes spouses and children get access to confidential medical information because doctors and nurses are busy and just want to make sure that a person’s family knows what is going on, but it is much harder for friends to get access to this info without the proper legal permissions.
For another, without a spouse or children, single people really should take the time to write a Will or trust so that they can benefit their friends or families or charities as they see fit. State law dictates who will inherit when a person dies without an estate plan (called state intestacy laws), but single people may not like the result: their assets most often pass to surviving parents or siblings. Click here to find out what your state’s intestacy laws are–just enter your zip code to get started.
Finally, as Time’s author Allen Salkin writes, many single people just keep putting estate planning off, “[b]ut then you hit a milestone birthday, or a relationship becomes more committed, or your niece starts talking about attending an expensive art college — or all of the above, and ….. All of a sudden, you may realize that you are sitting on serious money that could matter to someone you care about.”
For all of these reasons, estate planning isn’t just for the married, or for those with kids. It is something that everyone with a heartbeat should do, sooner, rather than later.