Estate planning in Maryland may involve special considerations for those who have no close family or heirs. It is important in that situation to establish legal protocols during life to take care of the distribution of one’s assets after death. This includes the important task of appointing an executor to manage the estate. In addition, appointments must be made for a health care directive and for a durable power of attorney, each of which is effective during the maker’s lifetime in the event of an incapacity.
The same applies to deciding on trustees for both living and testamentary trusts. Importantly, life insurance, retirement and investment accounts require that beneficiaries be listed for direct distribution to them of the proceeds at death. With no beneficiary designation, the proceeds from those accounts are treated as part of the decedent’s probate estate, a result that may be undesirable. The individual with no children or immediate family must keep those beneficiary designations current and updated. Letting them lapse or remain unchanged after a beneficiary’s death, a divorce or other changes may bring unwanted consequences.
If there is no will, complications may loom for those with no legal heirs. When a person dies without a will in Maryland the state’s intestacy laws will kick in and specify the persons to whom the assets pass. In the case of no heirs and no will, one’s assets could potentially be forfeited to the state itself. This makes it critical to do some basic estate planning as soon as possible.
An important first step is to make a last will and testament. It gives the maker control over the disposition of his or her assets and prevents the dreaded forfeiture to the state. In the will, the maker can designate close friends, distant relatives and/or favored charities for receipt of assets in the percentages desired. Where there are step-children from a prior marriage or other persons of concern, the testator may provide for their needs. If any of them are minors, the maker may direct that a testamentary trust administered for their welfare until a specified age.
In addition to the will, a person often chooses to prepare a health care directive and a living will during the estate planning process. The living will is an important legal instrument that tells one’s doctors what to do during one’s last days. Many people do not want to be kept alive artificially where death is a certain and inevitable outcome. The living signed by the patient, usually tells the medical providers to withdraw artificial life-extension treatments, or alternatively, it may direct them to use all means available to extend life.
In the healthcare directive, the principal appoints a representative to make medical decisions if the maker is incapacitated and/or incompetent. For those with no immediate family, it is a relief to know that a trusted friend is ready to act on one’s behalf. The same holds true for the power of attorney, in which the principal can appoint a friend or business associate to conduct his or her daily financial affairs and to make important decisions during a period of incompetency.
Estate planning in Maryland is best engaged in with the guidance and assistance of an attorney who is experienced in that complex area of the law. Many factors can change the equation of options and legal consequences that are available or beneficial. As you can see, there are many reasons why a person who has no children or other preferred heirs has a pressing need to set up an estate plan without delay. The critical protections that you will receive for acting are in stark contrast to the unwanted impact of putting off such important matters to another day.