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Estate planning for childless couples

Most people associate estate planning with heirs, specifically children. But what about those couples who have chosen not to have kids? If you are one of the millions of couples without children, you may be apprehensive about aging without an adult child to serve as your caregiver and decision-maker. Luckily, estate administration planning for childless couples is only slightly different than that for traditional families, according to experts.

First, be sure that you have designated decision-makers for major events in your life. Couples without children can choose to execute powers of attorney for each other in the event of a disabling injury or illness. Childless couples should also consider naming another trusted adult, such as a niece or nephew, or perhaps even someone in the estate planning business, to take on major responsibilities after death. These couples should also consider drafting living wills, according to experts, so healthcare professionals will not have to turn to family and friends to know your medical wishes.

Attorneys can help you figure out how you would like to distribute your assets through your estate plan. Generally, childless couples name the surviving spouse as the primary heir. You may consider naming your siblings, siblings' children, parents or grandparents as beneficiaries, as well. Make sure that you have drafted an estate plan that allows you to make gifts without tax consequences; under new laws, estate taxes have been significantly altered.

If you do not plan to leave significant assets to your family members, set up avenues for charitable giving. Perhaps you would like to leave financial assets to an alma mater or volunteer group. Charitable trusts are excellent options for those who would choose to leave their assets to an organization rather than their relatives.

Finally, be sure that you are planning for the unexpected. Purchase adequate life insurance for both partners. Name the appropriate beneficiaries on your policies, and consider buying long-term care insurance for future healthcare needs. The more planning you invest during your younger years, the more prepared you will be for future estate decisions.

Source: Hamptons.com, "Estate planning when it's just the two of you," Rocco A. Carriero, Feb. 10, 2013.

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