Estate Planning for Childless and Child-Free Couples

When a couple with children is making their estate plan, they typically don’t think twice about leaving the majority of their estate to those children. A couple without children may have more to consider when determining how to distribute their assets and possessions, whether it’s to their parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews, or other close relatives and friends.  In some cases, they may also choose to leave some or all of their estate to a charity.

In the event of a childless couples’ unexpected deaths, inheritance may be tied to individuals they are related to or associated with by intestate succession laws if they have no estate plan in place. That’s why it’s so important for couples to establish their estate plans early and designate their beneficiaries on their financial assets, through a Will, or as part of a trust.

Here’s what childless and child-free couples need to know about making their estate plans, regardless of their age or financial status.

Do child-free couples need a Will?

Whether you have a Will or not, some part of your estate will likely involve probate, which is a court-supervised process that can be very burdensome without proper estate planning.  If you die without a Will or other type of estate plan in place, your entire estate may end up being governed by the law of intestate succession and pass to persons you never would have intended to inherit from you.  Worse yet, if you have no living heirs-at-law under the intestacy statute, your estate could become the property of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

For a couple without children to ensure their assets are inherited by the people (or charities) of their choosing, they will need a Will or Trust to specify who their beneficiaries will be in the case of simultaneous death or after the death of the surviving spouse.

Additionally, a Will or Trust allows a couple to designate an alternate or contingent beneficiary, so that if they both die together or if one of their named beneficiaries dies before (or with them), their assets pass to a person or persons they would wish, as an alternate, to receive their assets. A well-written Will or Trust (along with the use of beneficiary designation forms) can also prevent a family member from contesting your plans.

Estate planning goals for childless couples

Here’s how to approach estate planning as a couple without children.

Name an executor for your Will

Your executor is an individual or entity who is entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the desires and arrangements laid out in your Will. This person should be someone who has the capability and character to abide by your wishes and is accountable and up for the task to carry out this important responsibility.

Establish your power of attorney documents

A power of attorney is a legal document that gives another person the power to address the person’s affairs if that person becomes incapacitated and cannot handle such matters on their own (but is not deceased). These include decisions regarding real estate, investments, taxes, debts, and medical care decisions. Even if you are married, your spouse will not have these powers simply by being your spouse; you must execute a power of attorney that formally grants them these powers to act on your behalf.  It is also critical to have at least one backup person to step in the shoes of your spouse should your spouse become incapacitated or die such that he or she cannot serve in the role as your attorney-in-fact.

Make sure your beneficiaries are updated

As far as your retirement records, life insurance policies, and other financial accounts are concerned, you should make every effort to identify a primary beneficiary (such as your spouse) as well as an alternate, contingent beneficiaries.  You should review and update (as needed) any such beneficiary designations given these assets will pass outside of your Will and probate only if the named beneficiary actually outlives you.

Support your favorite organizations

Couples that don’t have children to leave their estate to may consider giving back to organizations that match the values and interests they have. For example, you may wish to make donations to your alma mater, church, or a favorite nonprofit organization and designate this in your Will or Trust.

Plan for the affairs of your pets

Many child-free couples have beloved pets, and if you do, it’s important to plan carefully for their well-being if they survive you. Options include naming someone in your Will to take over the responsibility of your pets, setting up a pet trust to be funded by your executor or trustee from your existing assets after you die, or choosing an organization to assist in placing your pet in the care of a new, loving family.

Get help with your estate plans

Even if you don’t have children of your own, it’s still extremely important to have an estate plan and to keep it up-to-date.  There are many tools available today beyond an ordinary Will or Trust which allow you to create an effective, efficient, and possibly tax-free estate plan.  If you have questions regarding estate planning or need help with organizing the future of your assets, set up a consultation with the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. today.