Estate planning is most often discussed in terms of passing down assets to children, but that doesn't mean that childless couples have no need for an estate plan.
If you die without a will or trust, generally your spouse inherits your assets if you have no children. After your spouse dies, his or her closest living relatives inherit any assets. If there are no relatives, assets go directly to the state. As you can see, this leaves your own living family members out of luck. Essentially, the right to inherit depends upon who dies last.
Even if you have no children, you can still use an estate plan to make sure your assets are distributed in a way that fits your values. This might mean passing assets to a beloved niece or nephew, leaving an inheritance for a friend, providing a trust to care for a special pet, or leaving a sizable donation to a favorite charitable organization. The point of an estate plan is to give you control over what happens to your assets instead of simply allowing the state to decide. A properly prepared estate plan will also help avoid probate, which can come with sizable fees that reduce the overall size of your estate before anyone receives a dime.
Aside from the distribution of assets, another important issue to consider when developing an estate plan is who you want to have power of attorney. An estate plan grants power of attorney for financial affairs and power of attorney for healthcare decisions. You can name your spouse in this role, but you need to have a Plan B in case your spouse isn't up to the task when the need arises. When there are no adult children to serve as alternates, you may turn to a trusted friend, neighbor, sibling, cousin, or clergy person. There are also professional fiduciaries and geriatric care managers that can be enlisted to serve in this capacity.
How Can We Help?
If you are in need of legal representation relating to an estate planning issue, please call our office at (626) 683-8113 or email us at info@PasadenaLawOffice.com. Our family practice attorneys are happy to meet with you to discuss your concerns and develop a customized estate plan that will best meet your needs.