Clients often come to me for their first estate plan because they have recently had a child. Many clients think that estate planning is unnecessary unless they have won the lottery or have had a child. Not true. If I think about many of the more complex or messy estate administrations with which I have assisted, probably half involve estates of single people or couples without children.
One reason you need an estate plan is to plan for the possibility of temporary or permanent incapacity. This is something that affects everyone, not just people who are married and have children. Everyone should have a health care directive (appointing someone to make personal and medical decisions for you if you are unable) and a financial power of attorney (appointing someone to make financial decisions if you are unable). Both are very simple documents to prepare and are especially important if you do not have a spouse. If these documents are not in place, and you happen to be temporarily or permanently incapacitated, the only option for your friends and loved ones is often an expensive and public court proceeding to appoint someone to make those decisions.
Also, with the recent death of L’Wren Scott, Mick Jagger’s longtime girlfriend, we are reminded that many unmarried couples are otherwise long-term committed partners sharing homes and the rest of their financial lives. Without an estate plan, one partner would not benefit from the other’s estate, would not have rights to sentimental property, may have to move from the home, and would not be allowed to participate in the administration of that person’s estate. The legal rights otherwise given to heirs do not apply to committed partners, so such a partner would be entirely excluded from all aspects of the process.
Finally, everyone has assets (even modest assets) to pass on to beneficiaries. It is important to be able to select the recipients of your property, and to nominate the person you would like to wrap up your affairs. If you are a single person and have no estate plan in place, the law would allow your parents, maybe your siblings, or perhaps even your creditors to make all of those decisions. Also, people without a spouse or children often have nieces and nephews or charities that they love and support and would like to provide for in the case of their death. Such arrangements really need legal assistance and can be tricky to draft correctly.