The Legal Corner by Sam A. Moak: Importance of Estate Planning When There Are No Children

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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.

Estate planning can seem fairly simple when you have children to leave your estate to. But what if you don’t have obvious beneficiaries?

These days, many singles are planning to marry and have children much later in life. This doesn’t mean that estate planning can be delayed. It is just as important for singles with no children to get started with estate planning early. Here’s why –

What Happens If I Die Intestate?

Dying “intestate” means passing away without leaving a Last Will. If you’re married with no kids, your estate will automatically pass to your surviving spouse. In Texas, the registered domestic partner may not be entitled to your estate when you die intestate. If you are single and suddenly die without leaving a Will, the court will distribute your assets and property to your nearest relative(s). These may be people you do not know or do not intend to leave your estate with.

How Do I Get Started With Estate Planning?

Now that you have an idea to whom you can bequeath your estate to in the absence of children or a spouse, you are ready to make your estate plan. Here are 5 simple (but not easy) initial tasks to set you on the right path: –

            1. Identify the Executor of your Last Will and Testament

This person is at the top of the list because they will be responsible for enforcing your plans and your wishes once you have passed away. These plans include finalizing arrangements for the funeral service, up to the distribution and closing of your estate.

            2. Identify Your Medical Power of Attorney

In case you have become incapacitated and can’t voice your wishes in a medical crisis, this person will execute your personal health care decisions, or make decisions on your behalf.

            3. Identify Your Beneficiaries

These are the people or organizations that you want to bequeath your assets and property after your death

            4. Identify a Guardian For Your Pets

It is also important to consider naming a guardian for your beloved pets who will be responsible for their care if you pass away.

            5. Identify a Successor Trustee

If you’re setting up a trust, your Successor Trustee will manage your finances and the stewardship of your estate on behalf of a minor beneficiary until they come of age.

What’s Next?

After choosing the various parties in your estate plan, and informing them of your decisions, the next phase of estate planning is to draft the legal documents and get your affairs in order.  It is essential to seek legal advice from those with experience in estate planning to draft your documents so that your loved ones do not have complicatons.

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, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.