Rather than calling themselves single, some folks would say they’re in a long-term relationship with action, adventure, and fun! After all, the single life has much to offer. Those of us who are unattached may enjoy a greater sense of freedom—and the chance to sleep uninterrupted by the drone of a partner’s snoring or the kick of their restless legs.
But even with this greater freedom, we still have a responsibility to ourselves to plan for the curveballs and unexpected outcomes life can deliver. Being single means there is no obvious person to step up to the plate in an emergency. Planning ahead is therefore essential.
Considering these four questions will help you prepare for whatever lies ahead.
1. Who will take care of your finances if you can’t? Losing the ability to manage for ourselves can be a difficult circumstance to contemplate. This could happen temporarily, perhaps during a long illness, or permanently as our capacity to pay the bills and file tax returns diminishes with advancing age. In either circumstance, having a Durable Power of Attorney will enable you to authorize someone you trust to take on these duties. The person you appoint could even sell your house if the need arose, in order to move you to more suitable housing.
2. Who will manage your health care if you can no longer speak for yourself? If you should ever lose the capacity to make your own medical decisions, that duty would fall to your next of kin. Especially if you have strained family relations, you might want your closest friend, rather than your closest relative, take on this job. Preparing an Advance Directive helps you to ensure that the right person will be in charge.
3. Who will inherit from you once you’re out of the picture? When someone dies without a will, Maryland law dictates where their assets will go. For a single person, this could be your children, your parents, your siblings, or a more distant relative. Preparing a Last Will and Testament allows you to “opt out” of these default rules and leave your assets to the people you care about most. Many single people also want to include bequests to charitable or political organizations, especially those with an LGBT focus.
4. Who will take care of your children when you’re gone? If you are fortunate enough to have children, providing for them after you make your final exit may be your highest priority. If their other parent is still living, he or she will have natural custodial rights over any children who are still minors. When both parents are gone, however, you can nominate legal guardians for them under your Will. Your Will should also include a trust for the kids, so their inheritance will be managed by a responsible adult until they reach a certain age. This person, called your trustee, could also be the children’s guardian.
One of the biggest favors you can do for the people who care about you is to answer these questions by preparing an estate plan. Meet with a lawyer—preferably one from the LGBT community—and have the necessary paperwork drawn up. The process generally takes only two meetings, one to discuss how to set things up and a second to sign your documents. Your completed plan will help you manage financial and health-related matters during any period of incapacity, and it will provide for the efficient transfer of your assets upon your death.
Having a current estate plan can save time, money, and a lot of stress. It can also allow you to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’re ready to embrace life fully, curveballs and all.
Lee Carpenter is an Estates & Trusts attorney at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. This article is intended to provide general information about legal topics and should not be construed as legal advice. For qualified legal counsel contact Lee Carpenter at Lee.Carpenter@saul.com or 410.332.8626.