Many people believe that estate planning is only for people who have children, but the fact is it can be even MORE important to do estate planning if you have no children. Some of the common thoughts behind this mistaken belief may take one of these forms:
“If I die, everything will pass to my spouse anyway, so why bother?”
“I’m single with little wealth, so who cares who gets my few meager assets?”
“Estate planning is an expensive hassle and it doesn’t even benefit me because I’ll be dead, so I’m better off letting a judge handle things.”
This kind of thinking ignores several basic facts about both estate planning and life in general. Regardless of your marital status, if you don’t have children, you face potential estate-planning complications which those with children do not, wealthy or otherwise. The potential conflict and expense you’re leaving for your surviving family and friends is not inheritance you want them to deal with. So if you’re childless, consider these three inconvenient truths before you decide to forego estate planning.
Someone will get your stuff
When you die everything you own will be passed on to someone. Without a will or trust, your assets will go through probate, where a judge and state law will decide who gets everything you own. Should no family steps forward, your assets will become property of your state government. Even if you have little financial wealth, you undoubtedly own a few sentimental items, including pets, that you’d like to pass to a close friend or favorite charity.
However, it’s rare for someone to die without any family members stepping forward. It’s far more likely that some relative you haven’t spoken with in years will come out of the woodwork to stake a claim. Without a will or trust, state laws establish which family member has the priority inheritance. If you’re unmarried with no children, this hierarchy typically puts parents first, then siblings, then more distant relatives like nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
Depending on your family, this could have a potentially dangerous—even deadly—outcome. For instance, what if your closest living relative is your estranged brother with serious addiction issues? Or what if your assets are passed on to a niece who’s still a child and likely to squander the inheritance?
Furthermore, if your estate does contain significant wealth and assets, this could lead to a costly and contentious court battle with all of your relatives hiring expensive lawyers to fight over your estate—which is exactly what’s happening with Prince’s family right now.
Finally, even if you have a spouse and your assets are passed to them, there’s no guarantee they’ll live much longer than you. In the event of their death without a will or a trust, everything goes to their family, regardless of the fact that you may not like your in-laws.
Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the value of estate planning for those without children: how you could be leaving yourself at risk.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.