Q&A: Single people don't really need wills, right?

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QUESTION: Single people don't need wills, right?

ANSWER: It depends on what you want to happen to your property when you die AND what types of property you own at your death.

Non-probate assets (things like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, some types of real estate, and a few other things - dive deeper into this here) get distributed at your death based on beneficiary designations, ownership titles, etc. And that happens with or without a will.

But when you die without a will, the rest of your stuff (and depending on what you have, it could be a little or a lot) is called your probate estate and that's subject to the control of your state's intestacy laws. "Intestacy" is the legal term for dying without a will. Each state has a set of these (check out North Carolina's here) and they function as an estate plan for people without an estate plan.

So - problem solved, right? Sure, if:

  • You understand and agree with the mandatory distributions (both who they go to and how much) set up by the Intestacy laws;

  • Are okay with the fact that the state lawmakers make (and change) these without your input;

  • Feel comfortable leaving the control of the process and timeline in the hands of your local county estates/probate court; and

  • It's okay that your loved ones will have no legal way to change or challenge any of this.

Need to know more before you can decide? Here's a nutshell/simplified overview of North Carolina's intestacy laws if you're single:

  • If you have children: they will get your entire probate estate. If they are not yet adults, the assets will be kept under the care/control of a financial guardian until they reach age 18. And the most likely person to get appointed as the financial guardian is generally the child(ren)'s other parent.

  • If you don't have children: it will go to your parents.

    • If your parents have already died, it will go to your siblings (or if they've already died, then to their children).

      • If you don't have any siblings (or they have already died and had no surviving children), it will go to your grandparents.

        • If your grandparents have already died, your aunts and uncles are next in line, followed by your cousins.

          • This goes on for awhile, but in the end, if there are simply no relatives to inherit from you - the State of North Carolina will get it.

If you're single and don't have a will and aren't thrilled with this, it's time to consult with an estate planning attorney. My Estate Plan Initial Consultation appointments are perfect for this - one time, no (continuing) obligation, get the info you need and decide for yourself - contact me for details.

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Original photo credit goes Simon Launay on Unsplash.