Just the other day I received a phone call from somebody who told me that she was single, had no children and had questions about what she needed to think about in regards to estate planning for a single individual. I shared with her that estate planning for singles is just as important as it is for married folks. Whether you're single or whether you're married, estate planning is important. An argument can be made that for singles, planning may be more important in some respects.
Failing to Plan May Result in Unwanted Outcomes. If you die without a will, you're said to have died intestate and when a person dies intestate, the law, each state, has created a plan of distribution for your assets. Now, that's the fallback plan that's going to be used if you don't do your own planning and execute a Will. If you're married, then generally speaking, the state default plan in Georgia is that your assets will be left to your surviving spouse and your surviving children who will share the assets equally with the surviving spouse taking no less than a one third share.
If you're a single individual, your assets will be left to your surviving children, if any. If there are none, then we have to look at what other relatives may be alive. Are there parents or grandparents who could inherit? What about brothers and sisters? If none of those, then the state will look beyond that out into your family tree to help find your next closest relatives, you're next of kin. Now, that distribution plan may not be what you had in mind as a single individual. You may want to leave your assets to a friend or to a partner or to other persons or charities but if you don't have a Will in place, that won't happen. It's going to follow the laws of intestate succession. Again, that may not be your plan and so putting your own plan in place is very important.
Plan for End of Life and Capacity Issues As Well. When many people think of estate planning they think that it only relates to a Will and to the distribution of assets when they die, but the reality is that we are very likely these days outlive our capacity – meaning that at some point due to illness or disease or dementia, we're not going to be able to manage our own financial affairs or to make healthcare decisions for ourselves. Planning for those circumstances is part of estate planning as well. What we generally try to do is identify trusted folks who will be able to step in and help manage our finances for us when we can't or as a matter of convenience and also identify trusted persons who can be our healthcare agent who can make medical decisions for us following our wishes in the event that we can't make them for ourselves.
For single people, you're preferred persons in these roles may be overlooked if you don't do the planning. What do I mean by that? For example, for a married person who doesn't do any of the planning, the court may then just put the spouse in the place to make these decisions. For single persons, you may have a particular person or two that you want to be involved in this but they're not related to you and the court may elect to put in place other people that you wouldn't want in these roles dealing with your money and your healthcare. Here, again, planning is just as important for single persons as it is for married persons.
Three Documents Form The Foundation. Importantly, the same basic documents are used for a foundational estate plan whether somebody is single or married. Those three documents generally used are the Will, sometimes called a Last Will and Testament, the Georgia advanced directive for healthcare and a durable power of attorney.
As a single individual working to get these documents prepared, you need to identify a good person to serve as your executor, someone to serve as your trustee if there's going to be a trust built into your will or separately, someone to be your healthcare agent and someone who will be your attorney-in-fact under the durable power of attorney. Importantly, you need to have some conversations with these people. Would they be willing to serve? Do they feel confident in their ability to serve and to follow your wishes and to take care of things if they're called upon to do that? They need to know that you want them to serve and that you've named them in those areas of service in you're estate planning documents.
Access is Important, When Needed. Beyond that, these key persons need to have access to get the documents when needed. If you've named somebody to be your attorney-in-fact under a durable power attorney or to be your healthcare agent under an advanced directive for healthcare and you've become incapacitated, those people need to get the documents so that they can use them, show that they've been named in these capacities, and then work to assist you and carry out your wishes. The documents do absolutely no good if they can't be accessed. Consider the issue of access, especially if your fiduciaries are persons who don't live with you or might even live far away.
Probate vs. Non-Probate Assets. Your Will Does Not Do it All. Remember as well that not all of your assets will pass to your chose beneficiaries under your will. Many assets are considered to be non probate assets and they're going to pass to others automatically by virtue of either the way that the asset is titled or the way that the assets are held in a certain account. For example, assets that are titled jointly with a right of survivorship with somebody else are automatically going to go to that survivor and it won't pass to somebody in accordance with your Will.
Consider Charitable Giving. Consider charitable giving as part of your estate planning. Whether you're single or whether you're married, you may have immersed yourself somewhat in some organizations such as fraternal organizations, community service organizations, church or religious organizations, for example, and leaving assets to these organizations at your death can help leave a legacy that lasts and augments your involvement during your life time.
Estate Planning is Important. Need More Info? Just Ask! I hope you get the sense that whether you're single or married, estate planning is important. If you need help with your estate planning here in Georgia, I invite you to give us a call at The Beck Law Firm LLC. We'd be happy to talk with you for a few minutes and see if we could help. If you'd like more information about estate planning, give us a call and ask us to send you our free information on estate planning in Georgia at no cost or obligation.
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