Across the country, the rate of adults who are choosing to live single is on the rise. According to a recent US Census, nearly half of all Americans over the age of 15 are single, compared to roughly one third in 1970. Among seniors living in the United States, more than 50 percent of women and 20 percent of men were unmarried in 2013.
Too often, single Americans neglect to plan for their estate, believing that their single status exempts them from the need to plan for their survivors and assets. However, careful estate planning is just as important for single individuals as it is for married couples and families—perhaps even more so.
There are a variety of unique estate planning concerns that singles, divorcees, and widows or widowers should be aware of, including:
Heirs. While married individuals who die intestate—or without a last will and testament—generally pass all of their assets to a spouse, single individuals who die intestate may end up having their assets distributed in ways they hadn’t intended. Typically, assets will be passed to any children, then parents, siblings, and finally to the state if no living relatives can be located.
If you are a single person, it is highly advisable to create a will that clearly explains how you want your assets to be distributed, whether you’d like your assets to go to a loved one, relative, or charity.
Beneficiary designations. If you named a beneficiary on an asset such as a retirement account, insurance policy, or relevant bank account, these assets will pass onto the beneficiary you named—even if your last will and testament or trust says otherwise. That’s why it’s essential to ensure your beneficiary designations on such accounts are updated after a divorce, remarriage, death, or birth. Otherwise, a former spouse could end up receiving these assets.
Incapacitation. Estate planning is not only about distributing your assets after your death. Careful planning is also important in the event of your incapacitation after an injury, illness, or accident. If you do not name a trusted individual to manage your monetary and health care decisions in the event of your incapacitation in valid estate planning documents, the care of you and your estate could be assigned to a court-appointed stranger.
To place the care of your health and assets in the hands of someone you trust, you should sign a durable power of attorney, an advance healthcare directive, and an authorization under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that enables your chosen agent to make decisions for you should incapacitation render you unable to do so.
Estate Taxes. As of 2015, singles can leave as much as 5.43 million to heirs without having to pay federal estate tax. If you are single, you can also leave gifts of up to $14,000 during your lifetime without having to pay gift taxes. Through gifting and other estate planning strategies, you may be able to reduce the amount of taxes you will have to pay on your estate.
These are just a handful of the many issues that may arise for singles in Florida. As a single person, you should consult with a knowledgeable Florida estate planning attorney to begin making preparations for your assets in the event of your death or incapacitation. With the help of a skilled lawyer, you can create a solid estate plan that honors your wishes and provides for the people and causes you care about.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.