Estate Planning for People Who Don't Have Families

Estate Planning for People Who Don’t Have Families

A growing number of older people don't have a spouse, children or other close relatives. One of the biggest concerns for people in such a situation is how to prepare in case they become disabled or incapacitated.

Such a person could, of course, give a power of attorney to a friend and assume the friend will take care of things. However, friends near the same age might die or become incapacitated themselves. They also might be overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities of taking care of a disabled person, especially since it might be a stretch to ask their own family members to help with someone who is not part of the family. Sadly, there have been many cases where friends have gotten into financial straits and ended up taking advantage of a power of attorney.

There are a number of possible solutions, but here is one that can work well, especially if you already have a good relationship with a reputable bank or trust company: Set up a revocable trust to fund your care if you become incapacitated, and have the bank or trust company oversee your situation.

Most banks will not agree to be a general agent under a power of attorney, but they will often agree to be a trustee of a revocable trust and then accept a limited power of attorney solely for the purpose of transferring assets to the trust.

Other suggestions if you choose to take this route are as follows:

  • Some banks are reluctant to be a trustee if the trust contains a home, especially if the home is in another state. The solution might be to put the home into an LLC, so the trust will contain LLC shares rather than directly owning real estate.
  • Transferring as many accounts as possible (checking, credit cards, etc.) to the bank will make it easier for the bank to manage your assets.
  • If you do not have anybody to name as your agent in a healthcare power of attorney, consider asking your doctor for a "physician-ordered life-sustaining treatment" order, which details what end-of-life care you want. Unlike a living will, this is an actual doctor's order that is included in your medical chart and is binding on emergency workers. 
  • Finally, try and create checks and balances so someone is overseeing what the bank is doing. The terms of your trust can require the trustee to engage independent accountants, healthcare managers and other professionals to keep tabs on your care.