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Individuals who do not have children may think they do not need an estate plan. This is incorrect. In fact, if you do not have children, you may especially need an estate plan because the default rules in the law may not carry out your wishes. Below are a few considerations.
Your Last Will and Testament
If you do not have children, you may think that you do not need to have a Last Will and Testament (a “Will”). However, a Will can be vitally important for a person without children if that person would like to control the way their assets are distributed at death. Thus, it is critical to establish an appropriate Will with an experienced attorney.
In your Will, you dictate who will receive your probate estate. Without a Will to follow, the Maryland laws of intestacy specify who is to receive your probate estate. After settling any debts including taxes, generally, the estate will pass to a specific group of your living relatives, regardless of whether they should receive your assets. For example, the laws of intestacy will dictate who will receive your probate assets even if they are estranged, or, if for a number of reasons (such as the impact on public benefits, creditor issues, or substance abuse issues) they should not receive your assets. To ensure your estate does not fall into the wrong hands, it is essential to execute a Will.
The Personal Representative of your Estate
In your Will, you also designate the person who will handle your personal affairs and distribute your probate estate, known as the Personal Representative. Ideally, the Personal Representative of your estate is a trusted loved one who is willing to take on these responsibilities.
Depending on your circumstances, you may want to choose a spouse, a close friend, or a relative to be the Personal Representative of your estate. Regardless of who you choose, this person should be trusted to settle your debts, manage your property, and distribute your assets after you pass.
If you would rather keep the distribution of your estate free of personal or familial ties, you may decide to name a trusted advisor such as an experienced attorney or trust company as the Personal Representative of your estate.
Your Health Care Agent
Adults without children may face a difficult situation should they become ill and require the assistance of another person to manage their health care decisions. Although it is difficult to imagine becoming incapacitated, it is essential to plan for life’s uncertainties.
You will need to appoint a health care agent to make decisions on your behalf in case you are incapacitated. Your health care agent will make decisions regarding medical treatment as well as end-of-life decisions.
Options for health care agents for adults without children can be limited, but the role is typically given to close friends or family. If you do not appoint a health care agent, your relatives, without your input, could seek to become your guardian or surrogate decision-maker.
Your Financial Power of Attorney
You should also consider who you would like to handle your financial matters in the event you are incapacitated. For instance, who would step in to pay your bills if you were unable to do so? If you do not have children, it may be difficult to determine who should serve in that role. You may want to appoint a parent, sibling, or friend who you trust to act on your behalf in such a situation.
Adults without children often wish for their estate to be left to their favorite charity, religious congregation, or alma mater. There are numerous ways to benefit a charitable organization at death, including but not limited to creating an endowment, a charitable trust, or funding a donor-advised fund.
The Needs of Relatives
If you are planning your estate without the needs of children in mind, it may be worthwhile to speak with siblings, nieces, nephews, or other extended family members to gauge their current life situations. For example, your relative might be struggling financially, requiring extensive health care, or pursuing costly higher education. There may also be relatives who should not receive your assets.
Whether or not you have children, it can be difficult to consider the future of your estate. The first step is to speak with an estate planning attorney who is experienced in working with all types of familial situations. Your attorney will ensure that all assets and properties end up exactly where they are meant to be, and that your wishes are heard.
At Sessa & Dorsey, we consider the bigger picture at hand and advise our clients on the best estate plan for their specific needs and desires. If you have questions about estates and trusts, please contact us at (443) 589-5600.
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