Do Childless Couples Need an Estate Plan?

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Estate planning may look different for childless couples.

People do not live identical lives.

Some people get married early.

Others do not.

Some people have enough children to field a football team.

Some couples go through life as a team of two.

According to a recent Motley Fool article titled “5 Estate-Planning Tips for Child-Free Couples,” childless couples may have different estate planning goals than those with one or more children.

Being child-free, these couples could feel greater freedom to prioritize other family members, friends, colleges, or charities in their estate planning.

If this describes you, here are a few planning tips.

Childless couples should have an estate plan.
Estate planning is important for those with no children.

Set up a will.

Without a will, your estate may pass according to intestacy laws of your state.

You likely do not want this.

The intestate succession statutes of most states identify the surviving spouse as the sole beneficiary when there are no descendants.

When the surviving spouse dies, the probate court then decides who gets what according to state law.

Since you do not have children to inherit your estate, the list of heirs may include family members you would rather disinherit.

Does this still not bother you?

Consider this fact.

If you die first and your spouse inherits everything, then your own family members would receive nothing.

Instead, when your spouse dies, his or her family will inherit all of your remaining assets.

Yikes!

Finally, if you want to avoid probate when it comes to distributing your estate, then ask your attorney about whether a revocable living trust may be appropriate for your circumstances.

Sign a durable power of attorney and an advance health care directive.

A will takes care of your final affairs when you die.

What happens if you and your spouse become incapacitated?

Who will manage your financial matters and health care decisions?

Without proper legal planning in advance, that person will be selected by a probate judge instead of by you.

Even your spouse cannot act on your behalf unless legally appointed.

Without children to serve as your backups, you need to appoint someone you trust to pay bills, manage your investments, and make medical decisions.

A durable power of attorney and an advance health care directive (which includes a durable power of attorney for health care decisions) allow you to give one or more agents this authority.

Update your beneficiaries.

Some assets bypass the will or revocable living trust and are dispersed directly through beneficiary designations.

Be sure you review all life insurance polices and retirement accounts.

You may name your spouse as the beneficiary.

Nevertheless, remember to name a contingent beneficiary to inherit should both of you pass at the same time.

Give to charities.

Are you passionate about a cause or non-profit?

Has an organization made a positive impact in your life?

Remember to remember your favorite charities.

In my experience, I find that retirement funds are perfect for charitable giving.

Why?

Unlike retirement funds left to a flesh and blood person, a charity receives every retirement dollar tax-free.

In addition, you may easily update the beneficiaries of retirement funds simply by changing the beneficiary designation form.

By contrast, any changes in your will or revocable living trust must be done with the same formalities used to create the legal document in the first place.

Provide for your pets.

You may be childless, but perhaps you have family members with feathers, fins, or fur.

Do not neglect your pets.

You have a few options.

You can leave the pet to a family member or friend and provide money in your will or trust for their care.

You could also create a “pet trust” designed to provide instructions and financial security for your pet.

These are special trusts authorized by state statute, so ask an estate planning attorney if they are available where you live.

Both Kansas and Missouri make specific legal provisions for pet trusts.

Being child-free is no excuse to neglect estate planning.

Do not delay in creating a plan to meet your goals.

Reference: Motley Fool (September 9, 2019) “5 Estate-Planning Tips for Child-Free Couples,”