Ann has a condo in Northern Virginia, artwork, a dog and people she cares about. What she doesn’t have is a spouse, partner or children.
Or a will and estate plan.
For single people like Ann who don’t have obvious beneficiaries like spouses, children or partners, it can be especially difficult to make post-life decisions.
But it is important to make the tough decisions and have a plan in place.
In Virginia, if an adult dies without a will, the state’s default is to pass assets on to the closest relative. If there are no relatives alive, assets could go to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
There are essential questions to consider if you are single, childless and ready to put a plan in place for after you are gone.
A will allows you to distribute assets as you wish. It also assigns an executor. That person will guide your estate through probate, if necessary, which is the court-supervised process of accounting for your assets.
Choose someone as your executor who is trustworthy and not easily swayed by others. If a relative or friend doesn’t fit the bill, consider an objective third party, like an attorney.
You should also give careful consideration to appointing someone as power of attorney to manage your day-to-day financial and personal affairs if you become unable to do it yourself. Many people choose a trusted friend or family member with strong financial skills.
For Ann, the hardest decision was who should reap the benefit of her condominium.
Should she leave it to her sister, a single Mom struggling financially? Or perhaps her brother, who wants to open a restaurant, but is strapped for cash? What about the nephew who may want to attend an expensive school specializing in art, a passion they share.
It was obvious that the recipient’s life could be greatly impacted by inheriting Ann’s condo. She wanted to be the one to make that decision.
The disposition of Ann’s art collection was an easy decision. It would be left to her artistic nephew, the only person she felt would appreciate it wholly and not break it up to sell. Ann wanted the entire collection together for as long as possible. Art decisions can be tricky–see this earlier blog for more information.
As for her dog Bailey, Ann was torn. While her close friend seemed to truly enjoy the dog’s company, Ann knew he travelled frequently and wondered about that impact on Bailey.
Bailey came to Ann from a woman who had offered to take the dog back if things didn’t work out. Perhaps she would be a better candidate? This article provides tips on how to decide about your pet’s destiny if he outlives you.
Ann treasured several personal possessions that, while not necessarily valuable, should be left in the hands of certain people for sentimental reasons. For example, she wanted her sister to have her flute because they shared a love of classical music.
Designating recipients for special items can impart affection and meaning to loved ones after you are gone.
Last month’s blog discusses the importance of choosing just the right person to handle your social media accounts, computer files and other digital assets. Often, someone other than the executor is better suited.
When selecting someone for your medical power of attorney, remember it doesn’t have to be the same person who is your financial power of attorney. This person will communicate your medical wishes and may have to make medical decisions on your behalf. It should be someone trustworthy and willing to respect your wishes about life-support decisions and end-of-life care.
One of the most popular tools for planning the distribution of estates is a trust, which holds assets for the benefit of third-party beneficiary. Contact an estate planning attorney to discuss the pros and cons of trusts for those who are single and without offspring.
Once you’ve considered these questions, you are ready to prepare an estate plan. Contact an experienced, well-respected estate planning attorney in your area. He will help you create a plan customized to your situation to ensure your assets will be distributed following your specific wishes.