Estate Planning for Singles or the Widowed

How planning for one differs from planning for a couple

In some ways, estate planning for a single person can be more challenging for an estate planner than planning for a couple. When a couple formulates an estate plan, the easiest and most natural thing to do is to entrust one another with all of the responsibilities in the event of one spouse’s death. Among these responsibilities are the administration of the estate, execution of advance medical directives, power of attorney for financial decisions, and access to medical records in end-of-life scenarios.

The relative ease in dealing with these issues for couples is that the surviving spouse is most often within the closest emotional and geographic proximity to the deceased and their assets. Spouses are uniquely qualified to speak for one another, because they have likely had more occasions to discuss end-of-life scenarios with one another. Moreover, the surviving spouse is more likely to have been included in the financial decision making throughout the marriage, making the surviving spouse the utmost authority in the financial decision making beyond the marriage.

Those who never married and those who have been widowed do not have the luxury of entrusting emergency or end-of-life responsibilities to their spouse. These responsibilities typically fall to other members of the immediate family, like siblings. Siblings and other family members are often naturally less in-tune with one’s financial and medical wishes than a spouse might be. Therefore, a single person who is planning for his/her estate should make sure that any responsibilities entrusted to a relative are clearly spelled out in the appropriate documentation. Medical emergencies and end-of-life scenarios are emotional times in which the appropriate people must often be quick and decisive. Quick and decisive action is most easily achieved by a clear delegation of authority backed by legally sound paperwork. The appropriate people should have copies of this paperwork in a safe yet available place.

On that note, single people should bear in mind that the best people to entrust with these responsibilities are often within relative geographic proximity. It makes little sense for a New Yorker to entrust the authority of advance medical directives to a relative living in Seattle, for example.

Single people have even more estate planning considerations to think about. One such consideration is the unavailability of supplemental sources of income in case of disease, disablement, or incapacitation. Single New Yorkers should consider these possibilities in their estate planning efforts. Those who still work should ensure that they are covered by sufficient disability insurance, either privately or through their work. As single people get older, they should also consider purchasing long term care insurance to supplement any health insurance they may have. Long term care insurance typically covers expenses incurred in things like nursing home or hospice care that could be denied by normal health insurance coverage.

No matter which category you fall under, a New York estate planning attorney is the best resource to consult on these matters. Your estate lawyer understands the difference between planning for a couple and planning for the single or the widowed, and can help you craft the appropriate emergency and end-of-life directives, including to whom they will be entrusted.

New York City Trusts and Estates Lawyer Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Probate and Estate Administration proceedings throughout the past 30 years. He is available to help residents in many areas, including Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation or e-mail me at

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