If you are unmarried and do not have children or living relatives, you might think that estate planning is not important or deserving of your attention. However, it is an undertaking that is essential to protect you during your life and ensure that your property does not end up in the hands of the state.
Singles sometimes feel there aren’t good options for distributing their estate when they die. There actually are many good estate planning options available for an individual without heirs. Thinking creatively helps uncover opportunities and options you might not have considered. There also are very important reasons why a single with no heirs needs to have an estate plan in place.
First, consider what happens if you do not make a Will. Under Arizona law, you die intestate — and the laws of intestate succession determine distribution of your property. Those laws basically provide that your relatives receive your property, in a priority according to the closeness of their relationship to you. Your friends, charities, and other people you care about receive nothing under the laws.
If you don’t have any relatives and don’t have a Will, the State of Arizona gets all your property. You can easily prevent that from happening by creating a Will that designates who receives your property after your death.
When you make a Will, you may designate anyone as beneficiary (other than the attorney who helps you with your Will). You may name as many beneficiaries as you wish.
You may choose close friends as your beneficiaries. You might also want to recognize people who helped you at critical points in your life, by providing a gift for them in your estate.
Your list of potential beneficiaries is not limited to human beings. Your beloved pet — who may be your best friend and companion (and more “human” than some people) — can be a beneficiary of your estate.
Providing for a pet often is best accomplished by including a pet trust in your estate plan. The trust for your special friend can include provisions for determining who cares for your pet, as well as specific details about the care and attention that you want your pet to have. You also designate the trustee who manages the trust and distributes the assets in accordance with your wishes.
When you consider who might benefit from your estate, don’t forget to think about items you own that have special meaning to you or to another person. Pieces of jewelry, musical instruments, and many antiques and collectibles often have significant meaning for specific individuals or organizations. When you make a Will, you can designate beneficiaries to receive identified items of property, as well as specific amounts of your financial assets.
Another consideration in making an estate plan is beneficiaries of assets like insurance policies and retirement accounts. Your estate planning attorney will make certain that those assets properly identify the beneficiaries and distribute the proceeds according to your wishes.
Your estate can benefit one or more charitable or other organizations or causes that are important in your life as well. Charitable giving is a significant part of many estate plans. It can be accomplished in many ways and benefit multiple causes and organizations.
One option that many people choose is making charitable gifts that recognize educational institutions that played a notable role in their lives. You don’t necessarily need to give money outright to the school. You can create a special scholarship fund to benefit students that meet specific criteria. The scholarship may be in your name, or you may choose to honor a deceased family member or other important person in your life. If you choose this option, you design the scholarship precisely according to your wishes.
You also may decide on one or more charitable organizations or causes to benefit from your estate. Those gifts can be made outright or through a trust that controls the distributions to ensure the gifts provide specific benefits.
Churches and community organizations are frequently beneficiaries of estates, as are other worthwhile institutions and organizations. If you think over the values and goals that are important in your life, you likely will realize that there are several groups that could substantially benefit from receiving property from your estate.
Your estate plan includes your Will and may include a trust to accomplish specific goals for distribution of your property after you die. A sound estate plan also includes other documents that protect you during your lifetime. Those documents are just as important as your Will and any trusts in your estate plan.
As difficult as it is to think about what might happen if you become suddenly ill or receive injuries in an accident, planning for unexpected future contingencies is an essential part of estate planning. In the event you become incapacitated even for a short period of time, specific documents in your estate plan ensure that your personal care and financial matters will be handled exactly as you want them to be.
The documents in your plan that protect you are durable powers of attorney. In these documents, you designate individuals to manage your personal care and finances and make decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated. If you do not have these documents, a court will decide who is appointed to have all these responsibilities — and a judge may appoint someone you would not choose to take care of you and manage your finances.
In other words, careful estate planning is about much more than distributing your property. It includes making important decisions that affect the quality of your life while you are still living.
At Peterson Law Offices in the East Valley, estate planning for individuals and families is an important focus of our practice. Our services include helping single individuals with no heirs develop estate plans that reflect their goals and values. We carefully guide each client through the entire process step-by-step.
Your initial consultation with attorney Shane Peterson is always free-of-charge. We welcome inquiries from clients throughout the East Valley, including Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Gilbert, Mesa, and Chandler. Schedule your free consultation by calling 480-878-5998 or using our online contact form.
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