In talking about estate plans, much of the discussion tends to focus on children. How much should they inherit and when, what kinds of trusts do they need, who should serve as guardian in the event of tragedy, etc.
What about childless couples, though? That’s a question The Wall Street Journal recently asked, and I think it’s an important point for discussion. Even for people who don’t have kids now and may never have them in the future, estate planning is too imperative to simply shrug off.
The Journal breaks it down like this. People without kids have a primary checklist with just two boxes on it:
- Set up a distribution plan to determine who gets your property when you die.
- Assign someone to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf should you ever become incapacitated.
That’s a rather barebones approach to nonparent estate planning, but even those two items can be trickier — and more critical — than they seem.
As an estate planning attorney, I could accomplish those two tasks for my clients by drafting a will and a healthcare directive for each spouse according to their needs, but that could still leave the door open for unintended consequences.
Without a trust, for example, assets may be subject to costly and time-consuming probate when they pass to relatives.
Whatever your approach, it’s important for childless couples to remember that even though they don’t have kids, they do have relatives, friends, and other people they care about. When they die, their assets are going to go somewhere.
Without a strategic estate plan in place, it’s possible for one whole side of the family to be shut out altogether. Often, the default statutory procedures render rather undesirable distributions. But with some careful forethought, spouses can avoid those outcomes and rest easy, knowing that their best intentions are protected.