19 August 2017

No Kids? You Still Need an Estate Plan

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As the adage goes, you can’t take it with you. Whether you want to spend your last dime or leave it all behind when you go, creating a comprehensive plan for your estate begins earlier than you might think. If you don’t have children or obvious heirs, documenting your wishes and making them accessible will help ensure those wishes are fulfilled should something happen to you.

“If today were your last day on earth, who would get your stuff?” says Jean-Luc Bourdon, a certified public accountant in Santa Barbara, California, and a member of American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ personal financial planning executive committee. It’s a question he poses to all of his clients, especially those without kids. While parents may think their children are the answer, Bourdon says people without children need to plan more carefully.

Many people with children create a will to ensure their children are cared for, and in the absence of a will, next of kin are the obvious heirs. But for people without children, a will can be just as important, and it can easily be overlooked.

Whether you're planning to leave money to a favorite charity, establish a trust for a treasured pet as Bourdon and his wife have done or set funds aside for loved ones, creating a will, even as early as your 30s and 40s, is key to ensuring that your hard-earned money isn’t taken by the government after you’ve gone. But planning doesn’t just mean writing a will. Sound planning encompasses a wide range of documents that cover not just financial wishes, but directions for everything from health care directives to long-term care insurance to living wills and even organ donation instructions.

Frances Hopkins, a nursing student in Sacramento, California, says that such conversations are natural ones to have when discussing financial planning, because the soaring costs of prolonged health care and often-protracted court cases that arise when there’s a disagreement over someone’s wishes can be avoided with clear instructions. However, she says, people often avoid having the conversations. Hopkins says the more information you can provide in a health care directive, the better. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just thorough.

But for someone to act on your behalf in the event of an emergency, you must first give them access to your medical files, and you should do so when you’re healthy enough to pass along the permission.  Hopkins says even able-bodied, healthy and mentally sound individuals should prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Laws and forms for everything from wills to advance directives vary by state, but a variety of free or inexpensive online resources – like caringinfo.org, LawDepot, LegalZoom.com or individual state legislature websites – can provide templates.

Whether you want to leave anything behind or make sure you’ve used it all in the pursuit of a well-lived life, creating and communicating a thorough plan for your wishes is key to making sure those wishes are met. And as soon as the plan is created, make sure the right people – trusted loved ones, doctors, lawyers and anyone else who might need to know your plans – have access to it.

Click here to access the full article on U.S. News.

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