News and Commentary

Families Without Children Need Estate Planning Too by Brendan T. Hayes

The once idealized picture-perfect family of two parents and two-and-a-half children has faded as a growing number of married couples choose to live child-free. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of married couples without children has doubled over the past 45 years and is expected to continue on an upward trend. Despite the absence of heirs to whom a childless couple may pass their wealth, these typically dual-income families need sound estate plans to protect their wealth and their spouses today and far into the future.

Protection for Spouses

A will outlining how you intend to distribute your assets at death is necessary for all couples, regardless of whether they are married or have children. However, a will may become public through probate, which could also tie up assets that a surviving spouse may need to pay immediate living expenses.

While wills are essential documents, the directives contained in them may be superseded by the named beneficiaries on decedents’ financial accounts, including bank and investment accounts, retirement savings plans and insurance policies. For example, if you want your spouse to receive these assets after your passing, you must designate them as beneficiaries directly on those account documents. The same rule applies to personal property, such as homes, art collections or other highly valued assets, that you may want to transfer to a spouse or another family member upon your death.

By operation of law, titling assets jointly in the names of both spouses will pass outside of probate to the surviving spouse after the first spouse’s death. However, jointly titled accounts are not free of problems. For example, assets may not be protected from creditors or tax liabilities, nor may they avoid probate at the death of the second spouse.  Moreover, when a surviving spouse remarries, any remaining marital assets could go to the new spouse and bypass any family members to whom the first spouse intended to bequeath assets.

To avoid these potential pitfalls, couples may instead consider funding a revocable living trust with marital assets for the benefit of a surviving spouse while they are alive. Trust assets will pass outside of the costly and time-consuming probate process and remain protected from creditors and any family members, including parents or siblings, who may lay claim to those assets in the future. In addition, upon the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse will receive the benefit of a step-up in the cost basis of trust assets, which could potentially minimize or even eliminate exposure to capital gains taxes, should the surviving wife or husband sell the transferred property in the future. Furthermore, couples will be afforded the flexibility to use trust assets to fund future medical expenses and provide potential tax savings opportunities during life and at death.

Provisions for Health Care

Who will care for aging individuals should they become ill or incapacitated? Where should they live? Who will make healthcare decisions on their behalf?  These difficult questions, which apply equally to families with and without children, require advanced planning and decision-making to ensure that you can make your wishes known and followed after you have passed away. A healthcare power of attorney enables you to name a person or persons to make healthcare decisions on your whereas a living will spells out how and if you wish to receive life-saving medical treatment when you can no longer provide informed consent. Without these documents, the courts may be forced to name a guardian to make medical and financial decisions for you without the benefit of your specific needs and desires.

Due to rapidly increasing healthcare costs and rising life expectancies, individuals face a severe threat of outliving their savings. While a long-term-care insurance policy may help you pay for future medical expenses, there is a broad range of investment vehicles you may consider to help you plan for and manage those costs in the future.

 Fund Philanthropic Endeavors

A life without children can mean substantially more money in couples’ pockets and a significantly larger estate upon their deaths. Ensuring those assets are passed to surviving friends, family members and non-profit organizations requires individuals to establish appropriate estate plans detailing their desires and intentions. For example, a couple may create a charitable remainder trust to protect assets during their lives and pass any remaining assets at death to their favorite charities, or they may establish a private foundation in their names to keep their legacies alive.

About the Author: Brendan T. Hayes is a financial planner with Provenance Wealth Advisors (PWA), an Independent Registered Investment Advisor affiliated with Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs and a registered representative with PWA Securities, LLC. He can be reached at the firm’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla., office at (954) 712-8888 or

Provenance Wealth Advisors (PWA), 200 E. Las Olas Blvd., 19th Floor, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301 (954) 712-8888.

 Brendan T. Hayes is a registered representative of and offers securities through PWA Securities, LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC.

 This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description or a recommendation. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the preceding material is accurate or complete. There is no guarantee that these statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct.

 Any opinions are those of the advisors of PWA and not necessarily those of PWA Securities, LLC. While we are familiar with the tax provisions of the issues presented herein, as Financial Advisors of PWAS, we are not qualified to render advice on tax or legal matters. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Prior to making any investment decision, please consult your financial advisor about your individual situation.

You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation.

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Updated on June 28, 2024