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 in such a situation is how to prepare in case the person eventually becomes 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 the same age might die or become incapacitated themselves. They might be overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of taking care of a disabled person, especially since it might be a stretch to ask their own family members for help with someone who is not part of the family. Unfortunately, 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’s 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 the trustee of a revocable trust, and then accept a limited power of attorney solely for the purposes of transferring assets to the trust.

Here are some further suggestions if you choose to take this route:

  • 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 have no one to name as your agent in a health care 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 which is included in your medical chart and is binding on emergency workers.
  • Finally, try to 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, health care managers, and other professionals to keep tabs on your care.