The Legal Corner by Sam A. Moak: Estate Planning for Single Individuals

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The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law.  Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstances.

In the past few weeks I have addressed the importance of estate planning for couples, married and not married.  This week, I will touch on the importance of estate planning for single folks.  Making important decisions for yourself and ensuring the proper care of your assets after your passing can be overwhelming as a single individual. Who will step in to handle matters if you become unable to do so? Moreover, who will inherit your money and property when the time comes?

While your parents or siblings may seem like natural choices, factors such as their availability and the nature of your relationship with them can make them less suitable options.  The reality is many of us have lost our parents. 

If you don’t make a choice, the court will intervene and, in line with state law, appoint someone to make important decisions on your behalf.

To ensure your proper protection, it’s essential to consider a couple of things and make the necessary arrangements for your peace of mind.

Agent under a Statutory Durable  Power of Attorney

In a statutory durable  power of attorney, the agent is the person who handles your financial tasks, like signing checks or opening a bank account, on your behalf. If you don’t have a family member or trusted friend to handle your finances, you can also hire professionals to provide assistance.

The statutory durable power of attorney document specifies the agent’s authority, including the duration and extent of their responsibilities. It’s crucial to choose a responsible agent who can keep accurate records of the financial transactions they perform for you and has enough time to dedicate to the role.

Agent under a Medical Power of Attorney

Similar to a financial power of attorney, it’s important to have someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf. By creating a medical power of attorney, you get to choose this person instead of leaving it up to a judge.

It’s crucial to select someone who will respect your wishes and be available to make or communicate medical decisions for you. If you don’t have a trusted family member available, you can consider a close friend or a reliable professional.  However, keep in mind that certain professionals, like doctors, may have limitations based on state laws.

Choosing the Right Beneficiaries

Without a designated beneficiary, your money and property will go to your estate, and without a Last Will and Testament this could be a process with unexpected costs and delays. But worse yet, your money and property may not go to the people you want.  This also applies to your life insurance policy and retirement account.

The best way to prevent this situation is through a comprehensive estate plan. It will ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes and avoid unnecessary complications.

Proper Tax Planning

When one spouse passes away, married couples can benefit from the estate tax marital deduction. This allows them to transfer money and property to the surviving spouse without incurring any taxes. Additionally, the surviving spouse can combine their own exemption amount with any unused portion of their deceased spouse’s exemption amount.

For single individuals, you only have a lifetime exemption, which is the amount of assets you can pass on without facing estate taxes ($11,700,000 in 2021). There’s also an annual exclusion amount ($16,000 in 2022) for gifts you can make each year without triggering gift taxes. If you have significant wealth, it’s important to consider tax planning earlier, as it may involve more complex strategies.

How estate planning can help singles

Singe individuals may encounter the issues above, but you can still take charge of your future and secure your legacy by creating an estate plan tailored to reflect your desires. You can provide clear instructions for how you want things to be handled during your lifetime and after your passing. Contact an attorney with experience in estate planning to discover how they can assist you in protecting your legacy.

Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of MOAK & MOAK, P.C.  He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas and is a Member of the State Bar College.