Single adults who are not in a long-term relationship have unique estate planning concerns. If they are 18 and older, it usually makes sense for them to have estate planning documents in place.
Here are some common issues that come up for single people with estate planning.
YOUR DIVORCE: Colorado law automatically voids all appointments of and bequests to a former spouse in a will. It is critical that a divorced person prepares new documents that are wholly operational in this context.
YOUR ESTATE: A lot of people say, “I don’t have an estate, so I don’t need an estate plan.” This statement may derive from common use of the term “estate,” implying vast holdings of real estate, oil wells, yachts and mansions a la “Downton Abbey” or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” But the truth is that all of us have an “estate.” Estate simply means what we own. Some of what we own are probate assets and some are non-probate assets. But we can plan for how this is distributed under our own documents or default to what Colorado dictates pursuant to the laws of intestacy. Either way, we may end up going through probate (or small estate short version of probate.) In my view, it’s better to take the reins and make your own plans. My single clients usually find this gives them great peace of mind, just as it does for those in relationships.
YOUR RELATIONSHIPS: Single people may need estate planning even more than those in a relationship because their friendships, partnerships and other relationships may not be defined by law. A married person has a spouse and that spouse has rights under the laws of intestacy. But a girlfriend, boyfriend and best friend may not have these rights.
YOUR ADVANCED MEDICAL DIRECTIVES AND POWERS OF ATTORNEY: Just as with people in relationships, single people have more likelihood of disability than death. Even (especially) relatively young people. Estate planning ensures the right people make these decisions and take medical and financial decisions on your behalf, protecting you from the people you do NOT want making such choices. Single people have more incentive to appoint a power of attorney because they do not have a go-to default decision-maker like a spouse in the event they are incapacitated.
YOUR CHILDREN: Many single people have children. If you do not do estate planning and they inherit, the children’s parent may well be managing all your money on behalf of your minor children. A good estate plan will protect this money from your ex partner, allowing YOU to appoint a trustee to manage your children’s inheritance the way YOU (not your ex) wants it managed. On a more positive note, you do have hopes and dreams for those children and you can express those hopes and dreams in your estate planning documents, passing along your wishes as part of a residuary springing trust for your children.
CAPACITY AND UNDUE INFLUENCE: Whenever I do estate planning, I will clear the room to ensure that the person who is doing the estate planning is doing it of his or her own accord and is not being pressured. So too, I will want to make sure they have the appropriate capacity to make the decisions, involving medical providers if need be. This is especially the case with an older client, often a single parent or grandparent. The person making the agreements is the client and my duty is to them and them alone. This is a key protection for single people who do not necessarily have a partner protecting their interests.
DESIGNATED BENEFICIARY AGREEMENT: This came to pass before civil unions and may well be unique to Colorado. It is a contract giving the couple 16 rights that married people do not have. This is not necessarily NOT a form for a single person, but it is a form for people who are not married. This document may be useful for those who want to have standing to seek workers’ compensation benefits and the right to sue for wrongful death.
YOUR DOCUMENTS: People will need to get to your documents to use them. Make sure your proposed personal representative, or someone else, has access to your estate planning documents, has the right keys and knows how to get to the original documents in case something happens to you. So too, make sure your health care team has access to your medical power of attorney and living will.
For help with your estate planning, whether you’re single or married, and to ensure that you receive ironclad documents that clearly state your intentions and protect you, contact Andersen Law PC at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-922-3880.