End of Life Planning

5/30/2024 | By David Rodeck

An estate plan lays out what you want to happen to your assets after death and during situations when you can’t make decisions. But if you’ve never married or were married a long time ago and have no children, don’t assume estate planning without heirs is a cake walk. It’s not.

“People often think estate planning will be simpler in this situation, [but] it’s a lot more complicated,” says James C. Bartholomew, an estate planning attorney in Bend, Oregon. “That’s why getting the right documents and plans in place is so important.”

Here’s what you need to know about estate planning without heirs:

Having no plan can put a stranger in charge.

If you die without an estate plan, a court distributes your property according to state law. The court also chooses someone to make health care decisions and manage your money when you cannot.

But if you’re single, state laws will go down your list of relatives — parents to siblings to nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and cousins until they find a match.

If you have no living relatives, the court will select a guardian for you. The state will also keep your property if you have no living relatives and die without an estate plan.

List your health care wishes ahead of time.

You can use a health care power of attorney to pick someone to speak with doctors about your medical situation and help make decisions for your care. You could also draw up an advance directive laying out your desires for end-of-life care, such as whether you want to stop aggressive treatment if you have no chance of survival.

Older man reflecting and enjoying the outdoors.

Decide who will manage your money.

A financial power of attorney names someone to manage your financial accounts and pay your bills when you cannot.

Plan and update as needed.

A will lays out where you want your property to go after you pass away. Your will should name an executor to oversee the process of distributing the inheritance. You could use a friend or family member for this role or hire a lawyer, accountant or a professional from a bank.

Prearrange your funeral.

If you plan your funeral ahead of time, that takes another uncomfortable decision off the hands of your relatives and friends. If you prearrange a funeral, make sure to document what the other party agreed to on costs, and let relatives know where they can find this information.

Make your long-term care plan.

Consider what you want to happen if you need help being taken care of after a serious illness or injury. You could use an in-home nursing service if you want to stay out of a nursing home as long as possible. Also, consider how you’d pay for care, such as using your savings, long-term care insurance or a hybrid life insurance policy with long-term care coverage.

Find others to check up on you.

Consider teaming up with another relative or close friend to make sure you’re both OK. You could schedule a daily check-in call or text message.

David Rodeck is a contributing writer at Kiplinger’s Retirement Report. For more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.

©2024 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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David Rodeck

David Rodeck is a contributing writer at Kiplinger’s Retirement Report. For more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.