Estate Planning for Single Persons

If you’re one of the estimated 45 million single persons with no kids and living alone in the US today, you are part of a trend that has significantly changed the American demographic landscape in the last four decades. Those aged 50 and above account for 60% of this segment of the population.

For single people in their 50s and living alone, aging without the support of children or partners/spouses can be daunting, but also surprisingly inspiring and even empowering. If they have accumulated financial assets, planning for who will inherit their estate can be both exciting and deeply rewarding. And even planning for their eventual aging and decline does not have to be an exercise in doom-and-gloom; there are many ways for single adults past the age of 50 to ensure that they will always retain their independence in their health care decisions and living arrangements. Why Single ADULTS Need An Estate Plan

Note: the following content applies only to single adults without minor children.

Estate planning is necessary for everyone, not just married or partnered persons. An estate plan can include one (e.g. just a Will) or several components (e.g. Will + Living Trust + Advanced Directives etc.). We all need an estate plan because if we do not set out instructions as to who inherits what from us, the courts do so for us. In short, when you don’t have an estate plan, and die “intestate”, the law – not you – decides who inherits from you. What this means is that whatever assets you’ve accumulated during your lifetime get distributed by the courts according to a set of legal rules as set out in legislation and case law precedents. You essentially give up any say in how your assets (estate) is distributed, and to whom.

The most important estate planning instruments for single adults are:

  • Living Trust (aka Revocable Living Trust)
  • Advanced Directives  

REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST- retain privacy & control (even after death)

Unlike a Will, when you have a Revocable Living Trust (RLT), your estate doesn’t have to go through probate. Probate is the legal process by which Wills are submitted to the courts for approval before the estate (assets) can be distributed. Probate is a matter of public record. Wills also expire once the Probate process is complete, and assets are distributed accordingly.

An RLT is a private arrangement. When you set up an RLT, you are the Grantor, but also the beneficiary of the assets that you grant to the Trust, and also the Trustee. The effect of this is that during your lifetime, you can move assets in and out of the trust, retaining full control over them. You give up being the title-holder (ownership) via the “funding” of the trust (i.e. moving title of the assets to the Trust from yourself). You can still use and benefit from these assets until you pass on. And even after you pass on, you can continue to keep the assets in the Trust, for them to be distributed at a later time (e.g. when the Trust continues to hold the assets for your minor children until they are adults). RLTs are a powerful estate planning tool. For adults without children, this is perhaps the most common and popular alternative to the Will (and for good reasons). (Note: if you are a single adult with minor children, you still need a Will as it’s the only legal document where your choice of legal guardians for your children is recognized by the law).

You can read more about Revocable Living Trusts here. Advanced Directives — You Retain your Independent Decision-Making if incapacitated

I have clients who have not only aged gracefully, they have done so in both body and mind. Key to this is the peace of mind that they acquire when they have planned for incapacity. Incapacity takes place when you’re no longer able to make decisions for yourself as regards your medical care (e.g. if you have a stroke or are in a coma).

For a person living alone, the absence of clear expressions of what they want for themselves when they start to decline is all-important. Doctors and medical care providers or assisted living facilities and nursing homes are left to default to universally accepted standards of care — and such care may not be what you want (e.g. prolonging life artificially). And relatives (except for siblings) and friends do not – in the eyes of the law – have automatic decision-making powers, even if you’ve spoken with them about your wishes before. It is therefore imperative that you make your wishes clear as regards life-sustaining care in legally-recognized documentation. These documents include the following:

  • Living Will and/or Health Care Proxy
  • DNR
  • Power of Attorney

You can read a detailed blog post on these crucial estate planning vehicles here.


*Source: Non-family household data from the American Community Survey 2018 by the US Census Bureau. A “non-family” household consists of a householder living alone (a one-person household) or where the householder shares the home only with people to whom he/she is not related, such as a roommate.