Having no heirs doesn’t absolve you from the need for proper estate planning.
The most avoidable problem is what happens to your wealth if you die without making a will (or dying intestate). When this happens, the state court system decides how to handle your money and belongings.
Therefore, whether you have no heirs or a hundred, the most important element of estate planning remains unchanged: Make a plan. Even a flawed plan is better than none, so consider tackling this task as soon as possible.
Powers of attorney
Determining who should have power of attorney over your financial matters is a delicate matter.
In this case, consider siblings, cousins or other lifelong friends. Since financial power of attorney quite literally gives another person as much control over your finances as you have, it’s important that you trust this person completely with your estate plan needs.
It’s also a good idea to give someone healthcare power of attorney. This person will be able to make medical decisions on your behalf, so make sure you talk things over and that you’re philosophically aligned about medical matters.
Last will and testament
At its most basic, a will specifies who gets what. Consider making a list of anything you own that has monetary or personal value (jewelry, cars, houses, heirlooms, etc.), and then make a second list of people you’d like to give your things to. You can divide your assets among as many beneficiaries as you like — or as few.
If you have pets, you can set up a trust to provide for their care. If there are charitable causes you’d like to support, you can also name these in your will.
Living will and long-term care
Even before you get around to what might happen to your wealth after you die, you should carefully consider how to protect your savings, property, and other assets as you age.
You might also want to consider clarifying your wishes in your estate plan about how you’d like to be cared for if you get dementia or if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness. A living will lays out your preferences for how end-of-life medical care is handled, and it is there to support and inform whomever you’ve given medical power of attorney.
Once considered a scam to defraud the gullible, reverse mortgages have gained traction and reputability in recent years. If you don’t have children to leave your house to (and sometimes even if you do), it’s worth exploring this option since it can free up the capital in your house, allowing you to use it to pay medical bills or improve your overall quality of life.
The bottom line
As with all estate-planning matters, it’s worth consulting with an eldercare lawyer or an estate planner. But coming to that consultation with a clear plan for how you’d like to handle your estate will make everything run more smoothly.