No spouse + no children = no estate plan necessary?

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Rebekah Freeman

Everybody needs an estate plan, regardless of age, marital status, amount of wealth, and whether or not you have children.

When one is married and-or has children, it is easy to assume how the estate will be distributed upon one's passing. Normally, spouses leave everything to one another, the surviving spouse will be the sole guardian of any children, and any medical or financial authority will be given to the other spouse.

When one is unmarried and has no children, there is no easy assumption as to whom the individual would grant medical or financial authority, nor as to where the estate will be distributed.

Sure, you could assume parents and siblings would be the most likely candidates, but even that is far less of a given than a spouse or children.

This next statement holds true for any individual: If you do not specifically state who you intend to grant certain medical or financial authority in the case of incapacity, and you do not specify who should receive your estate, then how are your wishes to be followed?

No one will even know them.

Picture this scenario: Minnie Millennial (MM) comes into my office to discuss estate planning. She is unmarried, no children, two dogs and a bird, owns a home, has one bank account, a car, and her closest family is six states away.

Her father has passed, she has no contact with her mother, and has a relationship with only one of her four siblings.

If MM were to pass with no will or trust in place, she would be subject to her state's intestacy laws. Most state's intestacy laws would follow MM's genealogical line and distribute her estate to those qualifying family members. Meaning, the mother and-or siblings with whom she has no contact could receive a share from her estate.

In conjunction, the court would have to appoint a personal representative, or executor, to oversee the estate. The named agent would most likely be a family member.

Would MM really want her mother to be her personal representative? What about one of her estranged siblings?

What if MM wanted to leave money to a charity?

What if MM had a partner who was living in her house?

What if ...?

I can ramble on about all of the "what if" scenarios. Each ending will come to the same conclusion. Having no documents means the court has to essentially guess about MM's wishes.

The idea that estate planning is for those who are married, have children, have a mortgage, who are wealthy, etc., is just an excuse for individuals to continue procrastinating about developing an estate plan.

Everybody needs, at minimum, a basic estate plan - millennials especially. Do not let excuses dictate your actions. Do not put those you love in a predicament to have to battle with each other, and the court, for the ability to make decisions for you, or to deal with your estate.

To learn more, attend one of our elder law and estate planning workshops or contact a qualified estate planning attorney today.

Rebekah N. Freeman is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center.

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