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No children. No heirs. Who will inherit my assets when I'm gone?

A few years ago, a wealthy real estate tycoon passed away at the age of 97 with no children and no other family members. The man, a Holocaust survivor, left behind a $40 million estate, but he did not have an estate plan, not even a will - at least none that anyone could find. After a thorough worldwide search for blood relatives, his fortune escheated to the state where he resided.

Questions to ask yourself

If you do not have any children or other blood relatives, do you know who will get your assets or make decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able to make them yourself?

If you have a plan in place, do the appropriate people know where to find your will, trust and other estate planning documents quickly and easily?

Have you reviewed your estate plan recently to verify that it will accomplish what you intend and that it is in compliance with recently updated laws?

Some people are content with the knowledge that state laws will pass along their hard-earned assets to their closest surviving family members. For many, however, state laws are woefully inadequate to when it comes to complicated estates, blended families, charities and other potential heirs.

  • Friends: If you want to leave assets to your godchild or provide continued care for a good friend who has disabilities, documenting your intentions is the first step to accomplishing your goals.
  • Charities: State laws do not provide for charitable donations. If you have some favorites, they may not see a dime unless you put it in writing that will stand up in court. You could also create a scholarship fund or foundation that provides support to underprivileged youth.
  • Pets: You can provide continued care for your fur babies by leaving funds to a trusted caregiver of your choosing.
  • Unknowns: Having no estate plan can open the doors to claims on your estate assets. An unscrupulous person may came out of the woodwork claiming to be your long-lost child, jilted partner or beneficiary with a forged document or allegations of oral promises.

Make it easy on yourself and those you love by setting up an estate plan. Not only can a plan put you at ease and stop fights from erupting between those left behind, you can designate whom you want to make your medical and financial decisions should you no longer be able to make them yourself.

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