Why Singles Should Worry about Estate Planning from Austin Estate Planning Attorney Liz Nielsen

Singles Estate Planning Matters

As a single individual, you may feel overwhelmed about estate planning. If you don’t have many assets, you may wonder if an estate plan is even worth it.  Yet, for single people, estate planning matters very much, since there is more than just probating your estate. Questions of who can act on your behalf when you need help is why singles estate planning matters.

It’s a daunting thing to consider who will step in and make decisions for you if you cannot make decisions for yourself and who will receive your money and property when you die. You may consider your parents or siblings, but depending on whether they are living and the nature of your relationship, they may not be an option. For single people, having an estate plan matters just as much as for married couples, because having an estate plan is important to ensure that your wishes are carried out during your life and after your death. If such worries are preventing you from completing your estate plan, we are here to help you.

Choosing the Right Decision Makers

A time may come when you will need someone to handle financial transactions or make or communicate medical decisions on your behalf. If you have not already chosen someone in a properly executed document, the court will step in and, using state law, choose the person who will make the important decisions for you. This may or may not be someone you would have chosen for yourself. Below are a couple of the important roles that, to properly protect yourself, you should name someone you trust to fill.

Agent under a Financial Power of Attorney

The agent in a financial power of attorney is the individual who carries out financial transactions (such as signing checks, opening a bank account, and paying bills) on your behalf. The duration and scope of the agent’s authority are spelled out in the financial power of attorney. No matter whom you choose, it is important that your agent be responsible, trustworthy, keep detailed records regarding the financial transactions they undertake on your behalf, and have the time to dedicate to the role. If you have no family member or friend whom you trust to manage your financial transactions, you can hire professionals to assist you.

Agent under a Medical Power of Attorney

If you cannot communicate or make medical decisions, someone else will have to do it for you. By properly naming this person in a medical power of attorney, you retain control over who will make medical decisions for you instead of allowing a judge to select someone. When choosing this person, you must make sure that they understand your wishes, will follow them, and are available to make or communicate them. If you have no trusted family member to be your medical agent, consider a close friend or a trusted professional. However, be aware that Texas state law prevents your current doctor from acting as your agent.

Choosing the Right Recipients

If you do not have an estate plan prepared, Texas’ intestacy statute will determine who receives your money and property, and the amount each legal heir will receive. While intestacy laws vary by state, here in Texas, money and property go first to a surviving spouse, then to descendants (children or grandchildren), then to parents, siblings, and siblings’ children, and grandparents in that order, depending on who survives you.

Additionally, if you have a life insurance policy and fail to designate a beneficiary, the proceeds from the policy may be paid to your estate. This can necessitate the costly and time-consuming probate process. Similarly, if your retirement account does not have a named beneficiary, that account may also end up going through probate, which may cause unintended income tax consequences or distributed according to the default rules of the account agreement.

Proper Tax Planning

The federal tax system gives preferential treatment to married people, sorry single folks. Married couples can take advantage of the estate tax marital deduction and transfer an unlimited amount of money and property, tax free, to the surviving spouse when one spouse dies. In addition, married individuals are allowed to add any remaining part of their deceased spouse’s exemption amount to their own exemption amount. As a single person, you have only your lifetime exemption ($11,700,000 in 2021).

Similar to a married individual, you can give away up to the annual exclusion amount ($15,000 in 2021) without having to file a gift tax return and pay gift tax. However, married individuals can make larger gifts and split the amount between them. For example, Spouse 1 and Spouse 2 can give $30,000 to their child without having to pay gift tax. In this case, a return may still be necessary, but if Spouse 1 and Spouse 2 agree to split the gift, each is technically giving only $15,000 to their child.

Because you can use only your lifetime exclusion amount and the annual exclusion amount, if you are very wealthy, you may need to engage in tax planning earlier and it may be more complex.

We Are Here to Help You

Completing your estate plan allows you to take control by providing instructions about what is to happen during your life and at your death. Estate plans can be drafted in a number of different ways to ensure that your unique wishes are carried out. Call us today to learn more about how we can help ensure that your legacy is protected and that the people and causes you care about are provided for. We have the expertise and experience to help ensure that your estate plan will work for you and your family exactly as you intend.  Nielsen Law PLLC provides family focused estate planning to individuals and families in Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area.  For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.