Williams, Stitely & Brink PC

I don't have children; should estate planning still matter?

If you think you do not need to worry about estate planning because you are single or because you and your spouse do not have kids, you are not alone in this belief. A recent poll found that 56 percent of Americans do not have a will. This could be due, in part, to the common misconception that the main purpose of a will is to take care of your children after you pass away.

In many circumstances, belongings automatically pass to children or a spouse in the absence of a will. If you are single or married without children, this is actually when estate planning may be even more essential. Granted, if you are married and pass away, your spouse will likely inherit your shared assets; however, have you ever considered what will happen if he or she also dies a short time thereafter? What if someone you both disliked - an estranged sister, for example - ends up inheriting everything by default?

What should I do first?

In addition to the above concerns, you may also wish to give some thought to what might happen should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. Two of the most important issues you may wish to address are powers of attorney and beneficiaries.

Establishing powers of attorney

Powers of attorney involve selecting someone who is authorized to handle medical or financial decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to do so for yourself. If you are married and have not designated someone, your spouse will usually have powers of attorney, but if you are in a serious relationship but unmarried, legally designating someone can be critical. If you have not named anyone, the person making these important decisions could, by default, potentially end up being someone with whom you are not close.

The person you select does not have to be a relative, but you will doubtlessly want to give careful consideration to whom you do designate, choosing someone you would trust to make important decisions on your behalf. Once you have made your choice, you may find it helpful to write down what your wishes would be in different possible scenarios, then discuss these desires with both the person you have selected and others to avoid potential future arguments.

Selecting beneficiaries

Once you have established powers of attorney, you may now wish to select your beneficiaries. Typical choices include:

  • Leaving money to nieces and nephews
  • Leaving a donation to charity
  • Establishing a foundation

If you have nephews or nieces, they may be an obvious choice. Otherwise, a common approach is to leave a donation to your favorite charity. There are even ways to create something called a donor-advised fund, which will allow you to take advantage of income tax deductions. Alternatively, you and your attorney could discuss 

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Williams, Stitely & Brink PC
P.O. Box 2390
200 East Main Street
Lexington, SC 29072

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