Some families choose not to have children. Some families are prevented from having children—whether because of infertility or otherwise. Or of course, there are single individuals who accumulate some level of wealth on their own.
So without a spouse and without children what do these people do with their wealth? And for that matter, do they even need an estate plan?
For the second question—do they need an estate plan—the answer is yes. At a minimum, they need to make sure they have a valid medical and general power of attorney and a living will. Further, they need to appoint someone to administer the estate—an executor or trustee. If they are married, it can be the spouse of course, but there is still the need for a successor executor or trustee. These actions help insure that the estate can be administered with maximum efficiency.
But the second big question is how do I distribute my estate? Who do I give it to?
In my own experience, I see some people elect to give their wealth to their own siblings. But query whether giving wealth to similarly aged individuals is more sentiment than wisdom. Of course, it can make sense if a fellow sibling demonstrates responsibility but chose a career with less financial rewards, i.e., teaching.
Others choose to leave wealth to nieces and nephews. Some elect for college funds. The question here is whether the parents of those nieces and nephews are making a similar kind of gift. Additionally, is it the desire of the parents that their children receive such an inheritance.
I worked with one elderly woman who was single her entire life. Her income as a teacher was supplemented by wise investments in the stock market that grew to a substantial nest egg. In her case, she set up a trust for the care of her dog, and left the balance to charity. Sadly, the choice of her trustee affected some of the net outcome to charity.
But the third choice of charity is and can be a logical one. Some have reluctance to leave gifts directly to charity for fear that the ultimate purposes of the charity may change. A simple solution for that is to name a donor advised fund as the initial recipient and then name the ultimate charity as a beneficiary of the donor advised fund. This process allows for easily changing the beneficiaries of the donor advised fund without necessity of going back to the lawyer for every change.
But just as with a married couple with children, the decision of what to do with your estate is every bit as weighty and measured.
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Published February 21, 2017