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Child-free couples need estate planning

More Michigan couples have opted not to have children as the number of babies born in this country fell to its lowest rate in 32 years in 2018. Couples without children, however, have different needs that require estate planning.

These couples should have a will because they do not have natural heirs to inherit their assets. Even though a person will inherit their spouse's assets without a will, couples may die together in an accident. If a person dies shortly after receiving their spouse's assets, the surviving spouse can determine who will receive this property.

Without a will, a probate court will decide who will receive assets. This can result in property going to a disliked relative and leave favored beneficiaries, such as charities, friends and preferred relatives with nothing.

Spouses should also prepare for the time they may be unable to make financial and health care decisions for themselves because of their incapacity. A power of attorney provides for the appointment of a trusted agent to take care of matters, such as paying bills, making investments, dealing with real estate and handling health care.

Couples usually have life insurance or retirement accounts. The named beneficiary on the insurance policy or retirement account determines who receives its assets regardless of the heir named in the will. It is important to keep these beneficiaries current or account assets may go to unintended recipients.

If couples intend to leave money to charity, they may consider setting up a trust. For example, a charitable remainder trust allows its creator to live off its assets until they die and then any remaining assets go to a designated charity. Another option, a chartable leads trust, allows the charity to use all the person's assets until they die and then its property goes to an heir identified in the will.

Finally, pets should be looked after. It was reported that at least 500,000 animals are euthanized each year because their owners did not arrange for their care. The will should identify a person to take care of the pet, but that person must agree in advance. A trust can also contain arraignments for their care or designate an organization to take care of their needs with funds earmarked for that purpose.

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