Estate planning is important for everyone but especially so in the absence of children, who are natural heirs when a parent passes. For singles or couples without children, the absence of a plan can lead to unintended consequences and protracted litigation. A famous case is the estate of the musician Prince, who died without a will and whose estate is the subject of ongoing litigation that may last years.

Individuals who utilize estate planning determine the manner in which assets are distributed and account for contingencies. For example, when a husband dies, assets generally go to his wife, but if she dies without children, the assets could go to her next spouse or extended family. Estate planning is a tool to plan for the passing of assets or managing incapacitation from injury or illness. Thinking about things ahead of time saves loved ones from stress and prevents dissipation of estate assets through taxes, legal fees and court costs.

At the core of any estate plan is a will and designated powers of attorney. Choosing the person to designate will demand consideration of both character and temperament. With married couples, the surviving spouse is typically the default, but in the absence of a marriage, long-term couples may be without recourse if they do not make an estate plan. In the case of incapacitation, the power of attorney will allow someone chosen in advance to make critical decisions instead of a parent or sibling who may not be preferred for any number of reasons. Powers of attorney generally expire upon death, so a will must be in place to fully protect everyone involved.

If an individual wishes to help loved ones after death, consulting a qualified estate planning attorney may help them understand their options. Experienced lawyers may be able to assist in planning for all possible contingencies regarding estate assets.