If you don’t have relatives or heirs, do you even need to worry about having a will or other estate planning documents? In a word, yes.
You still need essential estate planning documents. And you don’t have to have heirs to pass on your assets. There are alternatives you might not have considered. An estate planning attorney can help you explore alternative heirs and organizations that you may not have initially considered and aid you in refining your plan so it’s always up to date, accomplishing what you’ve always intended.
What documents do you need?
You don’t want to find yourself without essential estate planning documents. Without these documents, you have no control over who manages your affairs after you die and how they will go about it.
The more complicated your estate, the more documents you may require to cover all of your bases, but the following are the three best starting points to begin organizing your estate and wishes. Due to the complexity and intricacies of these estate planning documents, it’s best to get the help of an estate planning attorney to draft them.
Last Will and Testament: This document assigns a person (or people) not only your assets after your passing, but management and control over your estate extending beyond your passing. If you die without a last will and testament in place, your state laws determine where your property goes, which will most likely not be in alignment with your wishes.
Financial Power of Attorney: Simply put, this document assigns a person to handle financial matters while you are alive in the event that you are unable to handle particular financial decision making matters personally.
Advance Medical Directive: Similar to a financial power or attorney, this document assigns a person to handle medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to handle those decisions personally. This includes both decisions you would like to make and would not like to make such as being put on life support, the use of a ventilator, receiving CPR, etc.
Not even a spouse has the legal right to make certain decisions for you without these documents. And, if you become incapacitated without these documents in place, your closest relatives will be involved in a court proceeding known as a guardianship or conservatorship to appoint someone (whom you may not know) to be in charge of these decisions for you. However, who can you assign in these documents to make decisions for you if you don’t have a spouse, any children, blood relatives or heirs to assign?
No spouse, children or other blood relatives?
Just because you do not have a spouse, children or blood relatives to inherit your estate does not mean there are no other options for you to explore. There are a few creative approaches you can take to get your finances and assets into the hands of people or organizations not in your immediate family.
For example, you could leave your estate to a good friend. With your intentions clearly outlined in your last will and testament, you can feel relief in knowing that after you pass, your funds and assets will be given to someone you know. Be sure to discuss this decision with your friend so that he or she is aware of it, can then decide to accept or not accept it, and can then expect it when the time comes.
Another option worth considering is to assign your estate to a charity. This is a great way to put a positive spin on a somewhat gloomy situation. However, in this case, it is important to note that state laws do not provide for charitable donations. Receiving organizations can be hit with a giant tax bill after your passing, so work with an estate planning professional who can make sure this doesn’t happen to the receiving charity. Unless you put it into writing that you would like to donate your estate to a charity, the charity will have no leg to stand on in court if they claim inheritance they’re not able to prove.
Another alternative to donating to a charity would be creating a scholarship fund or foundation in your name. This could benefit so many underprivileged or disadvantaged people.
As silly as this may sound, you can actually assign your pets to your estate. In other words, you can ensure they will receive continued care after your passing by leaving funds to a caregiver in a trust that is earmarked for their care.
Assigning someone is always a better decision than assigning no one at all. In fact, an estate left unassigned can leave your funds and assets in an extremely vulnerable position. Someone lacking principle may decide to swoop in and claim to be your long-lost child or beneficiary with forged documents or allege that an oral agreement took place between the two of you. The best way to prevent this type of scenario from occurring is to self-select a person, organization or pet that you wish to be the recipient of your funds.
Put a plan in place
Say you’ve created a last will and testament, a financial power of attorney and an advance medical directive, and you’ve decided who will receive your inheritance. What is the next step?
At this point, you will want to designate an executor for your estate. An executor is a person or institution who you make responsible for carrying out the terms of your will and overseeing the administration of your estate. Commonly, executors are spouses, children or immediate family, but an executor can also be the recipient you’ve already outlined in your estate planning documents.
Arm your executor with relevant information about your estate, such as the details of your will, how they can locate your will documents, how you would like them to manage the sale of your property, and how they should go about notifying your banks, credit card companies, and state about your death.
How to get help creating a plan
Decisions that can be hard enough for people with children or heirs to make about their estate can be even harder for those without close relatives. That being said, an experienced estate planning attorney will work alongside you as you give these sensitive decisions some thought.
If you are looking to explore a charity or foundation opportunity, estate attorneys will encourage you to focus on your interests and tie them to the spirit of giving back. They can even help you pinpoint what you're passionate about and get you thinking about assigning your estate to causes that align with your passions. This approach can turn an often dreadful discussion into a fun conversation.
Don’t let being childless, spouseless or without close relatives leave you feeling stressed or discouraged. People in this situation have done admirable things with their estates long after they are gone. Start working with an estate planning professional today so you can enjoy the rest of your life knowing that your funds and assets will be passed on according to your wishes.
[ Keep Reading: How to Use a Trust to Plan for Long-Term Care ]