When creating your estate plan, the most difficult choices can often involve selecting your agents, or people who will act on your behalf in certain circumstances, including incapacity and death. These agents include personal representative, successor trustee and powers of attorney.
The traditional view is that these positions are filled with immediate family and close friends. For the growing number of people who do not have a spouse, children, siblings or close friends, the selection of estate plan agents is especially challenging since they don't have any of the traditional choices to rely upon.
As a result, it is especially important for people without immediate family or close friends to engage in thoughtful estate planning. Otherwise, your state's laws or templated estate planning forms could lead to results you never would have chosen for yourself or your assets.
Intestacy laws – or the default state statutes that govern estate distribution when you do not have a valid will in place – are based upon a traditional family with a spouse, children and siblings. They assume that you would want your family to make your health care decisions if you can't, supervise the distribution of your estate and receive your assets after your passing. However, if you don't have any immediate relatives, these statutes will result in a stranger being named as your agent and direct your assets to distant relatives you may not even know.
Likewise, the standard estate planning forms available online presume that your spouse is your first choice for your estate plan agent. Adult children are generally assumed to be successors, and your siblings or nieces and nephews are offered as backups. Inevitably, these forms will fail you if you do not have a spouse, children, siblings, nieces, nephews or a close friend willing to accept the responsibility.
Choosing agents to carry out your plans for these critical life events can feel daunting for most, but it can feel impossible for those of us who do not have close friends or family members we can rely upon to take on these responsibilities for us. However, you have many different options from a number of professionals to choose from for your powers of attorney, personal representative and successor trustee. A plan using one or more professionals as your estate plan agents will allow you to maintain control of your health care and direct your assets to the beneficiaries you select.