When the importance of estate planning comes up, the discussion often focuses on couples with children who wish to decide how and when to pass down an inheritance to future generations. Unfortunately, that frequently causes couples without children to believe that estate planning is not equally important for them. To correct this common misconception, a Los Angeles estate planning attorney from Collins Law Firm explains why couples who do not plan to have children should have an estate plan.
Childlessness in America
Data published from numerous studies, including one by the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), indicate that more and more couples are reaching their retirement years without children. While some of these childless couples could not have children, a growing number are choosing not to have children. Regardless of why you do not have children, the fact that you are part of a childless couple has important estate planning implications.
Reasons for Childless Couples to Have an Estate Plan
There are multiple reasons why you still need a comprehensive estate plan as a childless couple, including:
- Avoiding intestate succession. If you die without a Will or trust, your estate assets are distributed using the state’s intestate succession laws. If your spouse survives you, your spouse will inherit everything; however, that does not mean you do not need an estate plan! On the contrary, it increases your need for a plan because upon the death of the surviving spouse the remaining assets must be passed down using the intestate succession rules in the absence of a Will or trust. That means your parents, siblings, or more distant relatives will inherit your assets – a result with which you may not agree.
- Incapacity planning. While your spouse is alive and capable, he/she will be allowed to make medical decisions for you and/or control most assets if you become incapacitated. If you survive your spouse, or your spouse is also incapacitated, someone else must make those decisions and/or take control of your assets. To ensure that the “someone” is someone of your choosing you need an estate plan in place.
- Estate administration. Once again, your spouse might be the logical (and legal) choice to administer your estate if you die; however, if your spouse predeceases you or is unable to act as your Executor, the court could appoint anyone to fulfill that role. To make sure someone of your choosing oversees the administration of your estate you need to have at least a basic Will or trust agreement in place.
What Should Be in My Estate Plan?
Working with an experienced estate planning attorney ensures that the plan you create is uniquely tailored to your needs; however, there are some common components found in the estate plans of most childless couples, such as:
- Will or Trust. Creating a Last Will and Testament or trust agreement avoids leaving behind an intestate estate and ensures that someone of your choosing oversees the administration of your estate.
- Charitable gifts. Many childless couples want to give some or all of their assets to charity when they die. You must have an estate plan in place with the appropriate tools to make sure this happens. Moreover, there are numerous advantages to making charitable gifts while you are still alive instead of waiting until your death.
- Advanced directives. Executing the appropriate advance directive is the only way to ensure that you get to choose who will make healthcare decisions for you if your spouse is no longer alive or is otherwise unable to make them.
- Power of Attorney. If someone needs to take control of your assets while you are alive and your spouse is not an option, you do not want a court to decide who that person will be. A Power of Attorney lets you give someone of your choosing that authority.
Contact Collins Law Group
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions related to estate planning, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney near you. Contact the Collins Law Group by calling (310) 677-9787 to register for one of our FREE estate planning workshops.