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What do childless couples need to know about estate planning?

The two most important things that New York couples without children need to decide in their estate plan are: (1) what will happen to their property after they die; and, (2) who they want to manage their financial affairs and medical affairs in the event that both spouses are incapacitated.

Barring the existence of a trust or will, state law will determine who inherits one's assets. In the case of married couples, this is generally one's spouse in the case that no children exist. After one's spouse passes away, then relatives of the spouse will receive a state. If no relatives exist, then the state will absorb the assets of the estate by default.

The unfortunate part of the unplanned estate is the fact that the relatives of the first spouse who dies will be disinherited and the family of the spouse who dies last will be the only beneficiaries of the estate. The most common way of resolving this issue is to create a will that leaves everything to both spouses and dictates who will get what after both spouses have finally passed away.

Alternatively, individuals may wish to transfer some of their assets to their heirs at the moment of their death or while they are still alive by putting certain assets under the care of a revocable living trust. A revocable living trust will outline how the assets contained inside it will be distributed. Nevertheless, if it is a joint revocable living trust, then the spouse who lives the longest will still be able to change how it is distributed. Individuals who want more control could set up an irrevocable trust that serves to lock in specific heirs to benefit from one's estate after the second spouse dies.

Finally, it is important to identify who shall serve as your power of attorney with regard to financial and medical affairs. Sometimes, couples will decide to select different person. It might be relative, nephew or highly trusted family friend.

Childless couples in New York may wish to discuss their estate planning needs with a qualified attorney in order to determine what their best steps are to ensure that their goals are carried out to letter after they are gone.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Estate Planning for Childless Couples" Carolyne T. Greer, Nov. 08, 2014

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