Living wills, power of attorney and estate planning may seem far off, but it’s especially important to have in place when you’re single.
It’s something we don’t want to talk about, but people do die unexpectedly. If you don’t have your affairs in order, you’ll add the trauma on top of the tragedy if it happens to you. However, taking the time to plan now will simplify things for your family and friends later.
Living wills, estate planning and appointing a power of attorney may be the last thing on your mind, especially for single people in their younger years, but it really should be a priority. “Those who are unmarried have to be especially proactive when it comes to estate matters,” said Stuart Ritter, a certified financial planner at T. Rowe Price. “If you’re single and you don’t designate your wishes appropriately, the person who ends up managing your estate can encounter a number of complex and emotional issues that could be avoided simply by planning ahead.
Some people will be single their entire lives, while others will spend time with a husband or wife. Whatever your status, the critical question must be addressed: Who is the person who will take care of your wishes if you are too ill to do so yourself, or if you pass away?
The number of single people facing that question has steadily increased. The recent U.S. Census reports that singles have overtaken married couples as the majority of the population, with singles representing 52 percent of all households. The growth is due to both a fast-growing older population that is more likely to be divorced or widowed and people in their 20s who are delaying or forgoing marriage altogether as they enjoy their careers and their single lifestyle.
“With couples, both laws and custom dictate the spouse take care of most issues, whereas with singles there is no option unless the single writes it down,” said Tom Murphy, certified financial planner at Murphy & Sylvest LLC. “When someone is married, the natural object of their bounty is spouse and children. When someone is single, it can be difficult to figure out what that person would have wanted since there is no simple answer. If the single person has minor children, it gets even more complex, since minors cannot inherit until they turn 18.”
What You Need
Your will: Write out what you want done with your assets. If you have minor children, specify whom you want as their guardians.
Durable financial power of attorney: This designates the person you want to handle your financial affairs if you become incapacitated.
Medical power of attorney: This allows you to appoint a person to make decisions about your medical care if you are unable to communicate.
Living will: This specifies whether you want heroic measures used to sustain your life if you become incapacitated and are in a chronically degenerative medical condition.
Make sure as well that you name the beneficiaries of your retirement plans and life insurance policies.
Bottom line: Don’t wait to discuss your wishes with those who are closest to you. We may think we are invincible singulars, but we’re not. Take the time to put things down on paper. It’s simply part of making sure you will enjoy your independent life to the fullest — just as you wished.