It’s a common problem. People wait to set up their estate and very often that means they’re delaying things until after they get married. But what happens if you’re not married? If you’re single, it’s extremely important to plan for the future and have control over how your assets are distributed should something happen to you. The law office of Mikel J. Hoffman knows the value of estate planning. We have over 30 years of experience in helping clients protect their estate. That’s why we want to let you know about estate planning needs for those who are unmarried.
About 50 percent of American adults are single, according to the Wall Street Journal. And if you’re in that category, the first step in estate planning is naming heirs. The most basic tool to do this is to make out a last will and testament. If you don’t have a will that designates your intended heir, estate distribution is governed by New York State law. This is called dying intestate. The law that governs intestacy is article 4 of the New York Estate Powers and Trusts Law.
This law gives the estate to living relatives that are eligible. For example, if you have a spouse and no children, the spouse will inherit the entire estate. If you have children but no spouse, the children inherit everything. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your parents receive the inheritance if they’re still alive. If not, the inheritance goes to any living siblings. But the law makes the choice. Not you. If you have a domestic partner, friend or organization that you wish to have as an heir, they will not inherit anything unless there’s a will.
It’s also important to make sure your estate is administered by someone you trust. If you make out a will, that person is called an executor. You should choose a close friend or relative or an objective outsider such as a lawyer.
There are other people you may need to rely on to make decisions about your estate as well. There may come a point where you no longer have the capacity to make financial planning choices or medical decisions for yourself. Many people choose to create a durable power of attorney, for taking care of finances, but Forbes points out that people often choose their spouse for this role. When making a choice about health, it’s important to know that you can only appoint someone to make decisions for you through a health care proxy, according to the state Attorney General. This is different from a living will, which allows you to leave written instructions about your health care wishes and end of life care. Living wills can be used in conjunction with a health care proxy. But it’s a health care proxy, not a living will, that allows you to appoint somebody you trust to make health care decisions. It’s very important, particularly if you are newly unmarried, to make sure that your beneficiaries are up to date and the people you want making decisions for you are also current.
If you’re unmarried, you also have to keep an eye on estate taxes. Most single people don’t have to worry about state and federal estate taxes until they exceed the federal estate tax exclusion of $5.4 million or New York state Basic Exclusion amount which is increasing every year until 2019. At that time, the state and federal exclusion threshold will be the same. If your estate exceeds the federal and state limits, it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney or financial advisor.
Whether you’re single or married, the law office of Mikel J. Hoffman can help you with all of your estate planning needs. If you need help setting up a will or a trust or want to create a power of attorney, health care proxy or living will, we have the experience and the know how to do it. Contact us today.
The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding creditors or any federal or state tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.