First things first – Everyone should have a comprehensive estate plan. No matter your situation or makeup of your family and assets you should always have an estate plan. Your estate plan doesn’t just deal with your wishes once you pass away. It will also outline how you want your affairs handled while you’re alive, but incapacitated. It’s typical for many people to choose their children to be the key people that handle their affairs and receive their assets after they pass away. However, it is becoming more and more common for couples to not have children. Recently, the birthrate in the US fell by 4%, which is the steepest decline since 1979. In 1965, the total fertility rate was 3.65 live births per woman. In 2020 it was 1.64. The numbers don’t lie – we aren’t have children like we used to.
We meet clients all the time that have no children and this scenario can pose some specific challenges. It can be typical for couples or individuals to choose their children to be their executors, trustees, or agents to make their financial or medical decisions. In many families it is also common practice to leave assets to their children to create generational wealth. But what happens when there are no children to include in your plan? Who are the people that will fill those roles as key decision makers and who are you going to leave all of your assets to?
Five Recommendations for Childless Couples
1. You Definitely Need a Will or a Trust
Without a will, your state’s intestacy laws will determine who receives your assets upon your death. These laws focus on your relatives that are alive at the time of your death. In situations where couples have no children, it’s easy for assets to end up going to remote relatives and that may not be what you want. To prevent this, it’s important to have a will or a trust that outlines your wishes about where your assets will go after you pass away. Maybe there’s a charity that you want to support or a lifelong friend that you want to leave a gift to.
2. Choose Who Will Make Your Decisions When You’re Incapacitated
Who’s going to make your decisions for you when you’re unable to? This can include managing your investments, dealing with property, paying bills, and talking to your bank. It’s also not only limited to financial matters, but includes decisions related to your health care as well. Who will be the person to speak with doctors, coordinate your care and treatment, and decide what type of end of life care you will receive? These are big and heavy decisions that will need to be made and it’s important that you have the right people in place that you trust to do what’s in your best interest and carry out your wishes.
3. Keep Your Beneficiary Forms Current
If you have a life insurance policy, a retirement account, or any asset where you can list a beneficiary, it’s important to make sure that these forms are current and filled out correctly. A beneficiary designation will override what your will or trust says, which is why it’s very important to make sure that they are accurate. It’s common to find a beneficiary designation form that lists the wrong person, like an ex-spouse.
4. Plan for Your Charitable Giving
It’s common for people to want to make a charitable gift at the time of their death. Many people think that they want to leave their assets to the organizations that have contributed to their life. There are several ways that you can make a gift to a charitable organization either during your life or at your death. If this is part of your estate plan, it’s important to consult with an estate planning attorney to discuss the best way to plan with these assets to achieve your wish of making a charitable gift.
5. Plan for Your Pets
Maybe you have furbabies instead of children. Planning for the care of your pets when you are no longer to take care of them yourself is super important. Without proper care, pets can end up in shelters or can even be euthanized. It’s important to designate a person that you trust to take your pet and give it the care it needs. Another consideration for your plan is being able to leave a gift of money for your pet’s new caretaker to have the funds to provide the care the pet needs. Consulting an estate planning attorney to help you structure this gift into your estate plan is important to consider.
Many people might think no kids, no problem – they don’t need a comprehensive estate plan. But in reality it’s probably even more of a reason to make sure that you have a comprehensive estate plan to cover all of your bases. If you are in need of an estate plan, no matter what your net worth or your family structure, give us a call, we’d love to help you.