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Why is an estate plan crucial for single people?

Often, people who don't have spouses or children don't see the need to have an estate plan. However, for many reasons, it can be even more crucial for single people to have a plan in place than for those who are married (although it's important for everyone).

Estate planning isn't just about designating who will inherit your money and other assets. It's about determining who will take care of medical and financial matters if you are unable to do so or to speak for yourself. This can happen at any age to anyone. For example, a car accident can leave a person in a coma.

An estate plan should include a health care proxy designating someone to oversee your medical care and make decisions if you are not in a position to do so. It's important to provide clear and detailed direction in your estate documents about your wishes regarding end-of-life care and under which circumstances you wish to have care either continued or ended.

Many a family has been torn apart over the decision whether to keep a loved one alive when there's little or no chance of recovery, with everyone believing that they know what the patient would want. By putting your wishes in a legal document, you can save your loved ones this added grief and help ensure that your wishes are the ones heeded.

A will designates to whom you want your assets bequeathed. Without a will, your family will likely be mired in potentially-costly legal matters. In Pennsylvania, if someone dies without a will, the intestacy succession laws take effect. Even if you don't have family or friends to whom you'd like to leave assets, you can leave them to various charitable organizations about which you feel strongly.

Finally, a durable power of attorney designates someone to manage you financial affairs, i.e., paying bills, if you're incapacitated. Without that, a court will appoint someone who may not be your choice to handle these things. This is extremely crucial if you are single.

If you discuss your wishes with a Pennsylvania estate planning attorney, he or she can guide you through developing an estate plan that will give you control on how these matters are handled and by whom. The more detail you provide in these documents, the less you have to worry about a court getting involved and making decisions for you.

Source: Wicked Local Marshfield, "Planning Matters: Singles still need an estate plan," Leanna Hamill, Hingham Journal, Feb. 19, 2016

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