SOME PLANNING IS BETTER THAN NO PLANNING
In 2014 Pew charitable trust published a study that showed that fewer Americans are entering into marriage in the first place, fewer than ever before. Currently the number of people over the age of 25 who were never married is at approximately 20%. In terms of raw numbers, 42 million Americans have never been married. The percentage of Americans over the age of 25 married reached a peak in about 1960, with approximately nine percent of Americans never married. Part and parcel of the same trend is the number of adults who never had children. Given the fact that it is entirely biologically possible that men could have children but never know it, but for all intents and purposes impossible for the same to be true of women, the statistics only track women who never had a child. The number of women who never had a child peaked at about 2006 at about 20% of the population.
The number is, as of 2015 currently at 15%. So many cultural mores have changed in the last two generations that the pace is historically unprecedented. The law in America has generally always been responsive to social changes, even if it is too slow for some. Compared to some nations, American law is downright revolutionary in how progressive it can be. At the same time, estate planning for the never married does not need new doctrines or a change in the law. Instead it requires an experienced and forward thinking estate planning attorney to properly document the wishes of the client and to put them into effect through the choice of certain financial tools, trusts or other planning. Some planning, even if imperfect is better than no planning.
It may sound cliche, but it is still true both metaphorically and literally, that each person is an individual and, therefore, each individual deserves their own individual estate plan. With respect to people who were never married, there is at least general areas or topics that must be addressed. Additional areas or topics may be warranted, based on individual circumstances. The first topic is the issue of medical care decisions in the event that there are a serious of mentally incapacitating events. Health care proxies, advanced directives, powers of attorney and similar legal documents help to cover the patchwork of medical decisions.
It is best to outline your thoughts on what should happen on certain general circumstances, so that you can communicate your perspective in advance. There are risks to being too specific in your advanced medical directive. For those events that are not addressed, you can fall back on a health care proxy, who will be the decision maker for medical matters. This person should always be someone who lives close to you. A person who lives 750 miles away would be of limited benefit to you in such a situation. In addition, that person should be a beneficiary under the will. If they are, it is best that they do not know that they are a beneficiary so as to remove any cloud of suspicion on their decisions.
For matters of transmission of wealth, charity often plays into these decisions. It is in this realm that it true that some planning is better than no planning. Without a child or spouse to leave your wealth and assets to the state will revert to it’s intestacy laws. Many people, reasonably so, believe that it is better to leave their assets and wealth to a charity than to an estranged relative or even escheat to the state.