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Why couples without children need estate plans

Married couples who don't have children often put off their estate planning longer than those who are parents. They don't have to worry about the issue of child guardianship if anything were to happen to them. There's also no need to determine how their assets will be divided among offspring. However, child-free couples should have some estate planning documents in place. Let's look at a few key ones and why they're important.

Wills

If a spouse dies without a will, their spouse will typically inherit everything under probate law. However, what if the two of you die together or within a short time of one another -- for example, after a car accident or other catastrophic event? It's not pleasant to think about, but it happens.

If neither of you has a will, state probate law determines how your assets will be divided among your family based on familial relationship -- not on whom you were actually close to or wanted to have your property. With a will, you can designate which family members (if any) will be your beneficiaries. Many people without children prefer to leave the bulk of their estate to charitable organizations.

Pet trusts

New York, like an increasing number of states, recognizes pet trusts. These are set up to name a designated caretaker for your animals if you and your spouse are unable to care for them (due to death or incapacitation). You may choose to make provisions for them in your will instead.

Too many animals end up in shelters because their owners assumed wrongly that a family member would care for them. There's no reason for this to happen.

Health care proxies

One document that adults of any age can benefit from is a health care proxy. It lets you make your wishes known for medical care (including, but not limited to, what kind of life-prolonging measures you want taken and under what circumstances) if you're unable to do so.

You can also appoint an agent to oversee your care and make sure that your wishes are honored. While your spouse would likely be the one to do that, if they're unable to do so, it's wise to name another trusted person to take on that responsibility.

Each person's estate planning needs are unique. An experienced attorney can work with you to determine which documents are most beneficial for you to have in place.

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