Don’t have kids? You still need an estate plan!

Posted by  Shelly Eweka.
Everyone has an estate plan—whether by accident or design. If you die without a will or will substitute, the laws of your state will determine how your assets are divided , not you. Whereas, if you design your own estate plan, you get to take direct control of your legacy.
Millions of Americans never get around to the important task of determining what estate planning documents they should have, to ensure proper distribution of their assets after they’re gone. One reason is that many people lack any obvious heirs to leave their property to.
The very presence of children—in all their messy, awesome glory—can force people to get serious about seeing an attorney to understand their estate planning needs —and therefore, think differently about their legacy.
Families without children need to buckle down to the task and spell out more forthrightly how we want our assets to be distributed—as well as who should handle what in the event of a health crisis.
Here’s a quick checklist of roles to assign:
  • The beneficiary designation for your 403(b) and all investment assets are of crucial importance. A will cannot override this designation, so make sure your chosen beneficiary (which many of us designate when starting at a job, then quickly forget) is the one you wish to bequeath all your retirement assets to.
  • For your will, you’ll need to designate an executor. If you’re married, the natural choice is your spouse—but it’s also important to name a backup executor for your estate, just in case.
  • A living will, or advance directive, spells out the treatment you would like to receive if you’re ever on life support. Unless you’ve stated otherwise, medical professionals have a duty to prolong life even after you’re declared “brain-dead.”
  • It’s also a good idea to elect a medical power of attorney to make difficult end- of-life decisions for you.
  • If you have a larger estate, you may decide to set up a trust, and will therefore need to pick a trustee. When designating such a person, it makes sense to choose someone who is likely to outlive you. In the absence of a son or daughter, you may turn to a younger friend or one of your siblings’ children.
  • Unfortunately, incapacity can strike any of us at any time. In the event that you become mentally impaired, you’ll need to authorize someone now, a durable power of attorney, to handle your affairs. As with your will, name a primary person (maybe your spouse) and an alternative (perhaps a niece or nephew).
Consider involving a local estate planning attorney right off the bat. Everyone should officially name someone to carry out their wishes. You’ll need to officially name the family members or friends you wish to carry out certain roles in the event of your death or incapacitation, and your attorney can help you make those difficult choices.
Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America has sponsored Ask the Expert posts for informational purposes only. Many of the experts are unaffiliated with Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, College Retirement Equities Fund, and their affiliates and subsidiaries (collectively TIAA), and TIAA makes no representations regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information on the posts or otherwise made available by the experts. Statements of external featured experts are solely their own and are not endorsed or recommended by TIAA.
Responses from experts to questions posed by Woman2Woman community members are intentionally general in nature and are not intended to give personal, financial, or specific advice. Some strategies are complex, and more information is often needed to determine the personal needs of a community member. We strongly recommend that you consult with a financial advisor before taking any action based on an expertʼs opinion or other information you obtain from the Woman2Woman:Financial Living site so that all of your personal circumstances can be taken into consideration. Participation in the site does not render the member a client of the expert or of TIAA.
This site is not designed to accept or respond to requests or complaints regarding specific TIAA accounts, products or services. If you wish to discuss an issue of that nature, please contact TIAA at 800-842-2252. TIAA is not responsible for any opinions provided by members of this site. TIAA is not responsible for the content or privacy policies of third-party sites to which you may link.
The TIAA group of companies does not offer tax or legal advice. You should consult an independent tax or legal advisor for advice based on your own particular circumstances.
The material and responses are for informational or educational purposes only and do not constitute a recommendation or investment advice in connection with a distribution, transfer or rollover, a purchase or sale of securities or other investment property, or the management of securities or other investments, including the development of an investment strategy or retention of an investment manager or advisor. The material and responses do not take into account any specific objectives or circumstances of any particular individual, or suggest any specific course of action. Investment decisions should be made in consultation with an investorʼs personal advisor based on the investorʼs own objectives and circumstances.
Experts may not have medical or scientific training. Any information related to physical or emotional health is not intended to be used in place of a consultation with a physician.
TIAA is not responsible for the statements of community members. We may link to posts made by community members only to direct you to topics that may be of interest to you. This does not mean that we agree with the opinions of these community members. Their statements are solely their own and are not endorsed or recommended by TIAA.
January 3, 2018