Estate planning is often thought to be just for married couples, or those with substantial assets. In reality, however, single individuals – especially those who are older – need estate planning just as much as, if not more than, the married and wealthy. Without proper planning, the untimely death or incapacity of a single senior can wreak havoc on their family and cause numerous unintended problems.
The attorneys of Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. work with people at all stages of their lives to protect what they value most. If you are a single senior, we can discuss an estate plan that fits you best.
What Are The Various Estate Planning Tools That Can Help Me?
If you are a single senior, there are several tools which can help you properly plan your estate:
- Last Will and Testament: also known simply as a will, this document governs the management and distribution of your property after you pass away.
- Durable Power of Attorney: in the event a serious physical or mental impairment renders you incapacitated, this document allows you to name someone to manage your personal, financial, and business matters.
- Healthcare Proxy: names an individual in charge of your medical care if you become incapacitated.
- Advance Medical Directive / Living Will: although not legally binding, this is used to declare what sort of end-of-life care an individual wants (or doesn’t) in the event that person is incapacitated or terminally ill.
These are some of the ways to plan and manage your estate. But what happens if you die without them?
What If I Die Without a Will?
Dying without a will is known as intestate, and it can have severe and unintended consequences for your assets. When a person dies intestate, certain default laws are triggered which direct how the person’s estate is distributed. That means the government decides what happens to your assets. In Massachusetts, if you are not married when you die, the first to inherit your property will be any children you have. If you don’t have children, your parents will get it. Without any surviving parents, the next in line are your siblings. If you have none of these, the estate is distributed to your next of kin – which could be a distant cousin you have never even met.
Most people would rather have someone they know, like a close friend, get their property rather than a total stranger. Some single seniors want to leave their assets to a favorite charitable organization as a legacy. An estate plan can designate a chosen religious, educational, or other institution to put your property to good use. It starts with a properly executed will.
Why Would I Need Anything Beyond a Will?
Estate planning deals with more than just the property you leave behind when you die. If you’re a single senior, you need to consider these questions:
- What if I am incapacitated – who will pay my mortgage and bills, and manage my investments?
- Who looks over my home and real property in the event something renders me unable to?
- I have pets – if I can’t feed or take care of them while I am in the hospital, who does?
- What happens if I am in an accident and cannot make decisions about my healthcare?
- Who gets to decide whether I am kept alive by artificial means, such as a feeding tube if I am hurt and can’t make the decision for myself?
These and many other issues are not dictated by a will, or by Massachusetts’ intestate laws. They are best answered by a durable power of attorney, advance medical directive, and living will.
How Can A Durable Power Of Attorney Help a Single Senior?
If you’re on your own, you don’t have a spouse who can take care of the bills and other personal obligations if you are injured or incapacitated. This can be especially devastating to seniors who depend upon proper management of retirement funds to pay living expenses. With a durable power of attorney, you designate a trusted individual to manage these matters in your life. Ideally, it would be someone with strong financial knowledge and familiarity with the types of assets and funds you have.
How Can An Advance Medical Directive And Living Will Help a Single Senior?
Similar to a durable power of attorney, an advance medical directive allows you to select someone who can make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. If you haven’t executed one of these documents, and later become incapacitated, a court may appoint an individual without your input. The agent who you appoint does not have to be the same person as your financial power of attorney. But it should be someone who knows you well and will faithfully carry out your healthcare wishes.
The living will is similar in nature but is more concerned with matters such as life support and the use of artificial nutrition, hydration, and other end-of-life measures. This document appoints an individual who has the legal power to direct or refuse medical intervention if you are incapacitated or terminally ill. As with the durable power of attorney and advance medical directive, a single senior needs to choose someone who is knowledgeable and can be trusted to make these critical decisions.
Let A Southern Massachusetts Estate Planning Attorney Help
Your health, finances, and life are too important to leave to chance. Solo agers need to make sure that the right decisions are made after they have gone or when they cannot. Let Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. craft an estate plan for you. Call us today to schedule a consultation.