Single People Also Need Estate Planning
We tend to view the typical life course as developing a career, getting married, raising children, preparing for retirement, and making certain end-of-life decisions. But many people skip one or two of those steps, and enter middle age or their later years single and/or childless. Due to the ability to focus more heavily on career, some of these people are highly successful individuals. What happens if they pass away without expressing their end of life wishes? Where do their assets go?
Without estate planning documents, the assets of such an individual will pass through the expensive, time-consuming probate process. The state of California provides a rigid legal structure for distributing assets and determining heirs in which assets pass to the individual’s legal heirs by default as determined by California statute. Generally, if the parents are deceased, then the estate is divided among any siblings who are still alive, or to nieces and nephews if all siblings are deceased. In rare cases, were there are no immediate family members, the estate can escheat (or be distributed to) to the state of California.
Unless unknown legal heirs are the ones whom you want to inherit your estate, or you truly wish to give all your assets to the state’s bank account, then you should meet with an estate planning attorney to ensure that your final wishes will be followed.
During the estate planning process, you can identify which family members, if any that you want to receive proceeds from your estate. If you want to give a gift to charity, you should put those wishes into writing and make them legally binding. Some people even leave money in a trust to care for their beloved pets.
Most importantly, you might wish to leave funds to a loved companion. Many single people never marry for personal or even financial reasons, but they might not be very “single” at all. You might have a long-term girlfriend or boyfriend that you wouldn’t want to leave penniless; proper estate planning can ensure that this most beloved person is protected.
If you completed the estate planning process several years ago, remember to review your documents periodically to update them. Relationships change, beneficiaries might pass away before you, or you might have a new asset that you want to pass on to someone or an organization in particular. Every few years, review your estate plan and update your documents to reflect your current wishes.