Single mefites with no dependents, what does your will look like?
September 23, 2019 5:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm starting to feel like it's time for me to make a will. I'm in my early forties and enough people from my cohort have died unexpectedly that I can't just pretend I'l live forever. I don't have any kids or anything--what should I do with my estate?

I don't have a lot of savings ($30k or so at the moment) but my house is worth a fair bit, maybe 400k right now. My brother doesn't have any children either and almost certainly will not in the future. He and my mother are comfortable and wouldn't especially need the money, not to mention they most likely wouldn't outlive me by much unless I die suddenly.
I could just leave it to them, but maybe there's something more interesting? I've thought of leaving small bequests to my cousins' or friends' children (but who would be in charge of that?), or to a charity of some this point pretty much anything is on the table.
posted by exceptinsects to Work & Money (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any particular passions? I was listening to Colorado public radio earlier today and they were talking about people leaving bequests. I’m not gonna have any money when I die, and I do have children and grandchildren. But if I were massively wealthy or just a little wealthy, I would leave money to Mother Jones magazine because I really admire their journalism and I know independent and fierce progressive journalism is close to extinction.

But I am not pitching for you to leave that publication money. Look into your heart and think about the things you enjoy, the causes you believe in, the friends or family members who have been kind to you. I’m a little bit jealous of your situation, oddly, because of how much fun I think it would be to plan giving people or organizations or causes the unexpected gift of a little bit or a lot of money that was unexpected.

It’s your money, so I strongly encourage you to enjoy as much of it as possible before you die and then to enjoy as much as possible planning on how best to divest yourself of it. I am not an expert on this but I believe you can usually get a bank or financial institution to be responsible for handing out the money along with whatever restrictions or limitations you might put on it.

Perhaps you might want your cousins or friends children to get some money after they turn 12 or 15 or whatever just as fun money. Or not. The fun part of this project is imagining what you might enjoy most and also what they might enjoy most. And the best part of this project: I don’t honestly think you can do it incorrectly. It’s something you can completely do in a way that pleases yourself to the best of your ability.

Is there a park that you love or a building that needs to be maintained that you enjoy? So many possibilities. Have fun!
posted by Bella Donna at 5:17 PM on September 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

I'm a single MeFite a little older than you. Both my parents died in the last decade or so leaving me with some not-mine assets as well as the assets of my own. I do have a long-term partner but we don't live together. My will pretty much looks like this

- for my IRAs and 401Ks either my sister or partner are the people who are the beneficiary if I die
- for my bank account, my sister is a co-signer in case something happens to me and she needs access but I am still alive.
- for any money/stuff we got from my parents, that all goes to her (she is younger than me and may outlive me, but why not just sew it up neatly) except my dad's car which goes to my partner
- for my own money, a chunk goes to my partner, and then a chunk is split up into a few big chunks and given to charities of my choice (local library, local food shelf, RAICES, my state library association)

When my mom died, she left basically 10K to my sister and I to donate to whatever organizations we chose. It was actually sort of fun trying to think of groups that might have been meaningful to her and giving 1K checks to a ;local queer youth org was actually a meaningful gift to them in a way it might not have been to, say, the ACLU (who she also cared about) and it was interesting seeing the various responses. In your case you could basically have your house sold and have trusts set up for cousins' or friends' children for school expenses or whatever. The lawyer who writes it up could administer those or a trusted family member like your brother could. It would cost money to get this set up originally but after that it's mostly "set it and forget it"
posted by jessamyn at 5:20 PM on September 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

My husband and I are in a similar situation, and we've designated most of our estate to go to charities of our choice. I love the idea of leaving amounts to distant relatives or friends' children (I can hear it now: "I was able to start my own business because of money a distant relative bequeathed me"), but you will probably want to specify in advance either a dollar amount or a percentage the children are to receive. Your executor will take care of disbursing those funds when the time comes, and you can direct some specific purpose for the funds or not. Beyond that, the distribution of your estate is a great time to make a grand statement amount the causes you support by leaving a set amount or percentage to charities you believe deserve it. There may be some tax benefits if you make a formal commitment to those charities, but I'm not sure about that. In fact, I was planning to ask my tax advisor about that very thing when I meet with her tomorrow.
posted by DrGail at 5:21 PM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hi there. I am single, divorced, no kids, etc. and I faced this decision recently following a major health situation. What I have ultimately decided to do is leave all my policies to one friend who I trust deeeeeeply, and she will be passing the money out evenly between a list of close friends who have been so important and loving and supportive. No conditions or stipulations.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:27 PM on September 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In my work, and I am not an attorney, I talk to people about wills frequently. It is a great that you are thinking about these things. How you decide to divide your assets is an important part of a will. I too am single with no dependents and completing a will does really make you think about how you want your legacy handled.

But I would mention it is just as important who you decide to be the executor. It could be a friend, relative, attorney etc. But it is an important decision because being an executor, while most people would be honored, is fundamentally a job. So pick someone who you can trust to get the job done as you would have wanted.
posted by jtexman1 at 5:34 PM on September 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Do you have any organizations or charities you support currently in any way? If so, think about leaving some money to them. That kind of money can make a significant difference to an organization.

It sounds like you are also thinking about who would be the executor of your estate. That person could be in charge of distributing money to your cousin's kids (or whomever).
posted by bluedaisy at 5:35 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

A reasonable amount to my sister - we're not all that close and she's fairly well off but enough to cover her in case life throws her a curveball. A little bit to throw a wake for any of my friends that care to come to one.

Than 1/5 to a homeless charity in my region, 1/5 to an international medical aid charity, 1/5 to Planned Parenthood, 1/5 to the NAACP, and 1/5 to the DSA. I don't want my behest to be interesting so much as useful.
posted by Candleman at 5:43 PM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have a number of specific bequests to various charities I've supported through the years. The bulk of my money, however, goes to my mother (who could use it) or my cousin, a single mother of two. My siblings are all reasonably comfortable and won't begrudge it.

When I realized I had a death benefit I hadn't included in my calculations, I passive-aggressively put in a bequest to pay for summer research travel for someone in my old field for a few years; however, there's a non-zero chance the school won't accept it (remember that any such gift will need to include about a 15% margin for admin expenses) so I included a back-up on that one.
posted by praemunire at 6:12 PM on September 23, 2019

Best answer: Giving money to young people who would not otherwise get an inheritance is a lovely thing to do...

There are many youth from marginalized identities whose families have been systemically blocked from accumulating wealth... if you know any people like that, even a small gift of a few thousand per person would feel amazing.

Could you, for instance, split it among the graduating class the year you die, at a nearby high school in a low income area? Or is there an Indigenous reserve near you, where it could be split among all the people under age 21? Could you start a small scholarship?
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:26 PM on September 23, 2019 [11 favorites]

I think it would lovely to have specific bequests of children that you care about. Even a small amount of money can make a big difference.

If you are leaving money to children, you can have your executor put the money in an account under the Uniform Gift of Minors where an adult (usually their parent) will have control over the money (but need to spend it for the child's benefit) until they are 18 at which time the child gets control. You could also direct it to a college savings account for them (either an existing one or your executor could set one up).

It is possible to set up a trust that give you more control over how it gets paid out and what it gets used for but there is some overhead, both in terms of the legal cost of getting it set up and the need for on-going management of the trust and paying trust taxes. You would also need to have someone act as trustee - hopefully if it is a small amount, a family member who wouldn't charge for their time. My understanding is that if the trust is under $50K - $100k it is probably not worth the overhead.

There is also the option of having the executor buy an annuity that pays out over a fixed time period - pick a number of years that gives a reasonable payout each year. I haven't researched this but if you did, I would to try to make sure that it is set up aso the beneficiary can't just cash it out at a steep discount - a total waste of money - if they are going to to that you might as well give them the full amount to spend and not let the buy-out company make a profit.
posted by metahawk at 6:29 PM on September 23, 2019

Because family is family, in your circumstance, I would leave it to my mother first, then to my brother, then if both of them are gone, to one or more charitable causes. It's perfectly normal to have this kind of conditional will!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:34 PM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't have one yet (and I should get on that, I'm a bit older than you) but I've thought about it. I'll probably leave about half to my family — split between my brother and sister. My parents are alive but quite comfortable; meanwhile my sister, while not truly poor, would certainly be helped by having more, and my brother has children who are varying numbers of years away from college.

The other half will go to charity; one in particular that I am passionate about will receive more than half of that portion, with various other charities receiving smaller amounts.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:57 PM on September 23, 2019

I've always thought that random bequests to folks to aid in vertical moves or class stability (think micro lending type logic/loans but with inheritances).

Now I have two small kids and mounting medical bills (yay america!) so I'm not sure this will happen but the less cynical side of me, what little of it is left, has hope.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:47 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm with a non-profit which sometimes receives "planned giving." A few bits of advice if you decide to leave it to charity:

!. Money is most useful when it comes with the fewest restrictions.

If you ever see a non-profit making big splashy capital expenditures while neglecting basic operational stuff, it's very likely to be the result of a restricted gift. People like to endow named scholarships, grant funds, buildings, even bricks. They typically do not donate into the regular operational budget, even though that's often where gifts their size would be most immediately useful.

In our case, the gift came with the obligation to store and maintain some stuff which was of great interest to the donor but only tangentially relevant to our work.

2. Trust the recipients to make good choices after you're gone (or, choose recipients whom you trust to make good choices).

This goes hand in hand with the unrestricted gifts bit above, and it's probably most commonly seen in gifts to children. People leave kids college money, without any provision for what to do if the kids don't want to go to college. Some kids don't; some kids do, but can't for various reasons (taking care of family, no money for incidental expenditures like books, just don't have the grades).

Don't write your recipients into a corner like that: you will likely make a worse decision for them in your will than they could make for themselves when the time comes.

Anyway, leaving money to charity or more distant younger relations is a fine thing to do, and I'm confident whoever you choose will be grateful for your generosity.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:54 PM on September 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you are white and believe in the case for reparations, a bequest can be a part of that. I really like nouvelle-personae's above suggestions.
posted by Threeve at 10:19 PM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Approximately thirty-five years ago when I was barely able to spell my own name, a great aunt who'd met me once and who was actually my grandmother's best friend (and not a blood relation at all) left me $4k of a blue-chip stock. It's now worth about fifteen times that, which doesn't make me rich by any US standards but does make me considerably lucky. I've never touched the money, and don't know when or why I will (it's unlikely to continue growing, though), but it was a remarkably generous gift.

But if you don't have just a little bit of valuable stock you'd like to give to the faraway kiddos in your life, why not do as jessamyn suggests and donate $1-5k at a time to local organizations that'll benefit from it far more than the ACLU?
posted by tapir-whorf at 11:00 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I suggest: look for a community foundation in your area, and see if it offers a "donor directed" program. Then you have the benefit of working with a group that already is involved in managing funds and making contributions, but the donor directed part means that you can make the choices that are important to you. Perhaps the money can be used as an endowment for college scholarships for students graduating from a local high school. The endowment approach means that only the income would be used each year; the principal remains and continues the generation of income indefinitely.
posted by megatherium at 4:35 AM on September 24, 2019

I actually need to get around to setting it up, but I'm planning on making firm arrangements for a lawyer to handle the administration/liquidation of my estate, and instead of leaving anything to my niece and nephew (they won't need it) I'm leaving my white, mostly inherited wealth to black liberation organizations.
posted by missmary6 at 5:45 AM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm single with nil assets, so not likely to have answers for you. This is more likely a response to the broader discussion that's happening in the comments. There's a chance I'll inherit something from someone whose kids would rather it went to them - and they are making disgruntled noises about it, as though my friend's assets already belong to them. It's a weird way of invalidating the existence of a parent, and of that person's choices. So my will needs revising to take account of a prospective gift, and some clarification around what I would want doing with it.

It's weird to think through various scenarios that may never happen, and make legalistic assertions about what to do in each case. For example, if I were to inherit a rural property, I might then want to keep it in trust, and/or provide a stipend for a wildlife management scheme.

So broadly, it may help to think really broadly about the possible directions and outcomes you would like to support.
posted by rustipi at 9:04 AM on September 24, 2019

Best answer: I've advised single friends on this topic, and my suggestion usually is:

1. Give to Family/friends you care about and could use what you're not taking with you;

2. Give to Charities/institutions you care about;

3. If you have pets, make provision for them (have someone agree to take them; fund their upkeep);

4. If you have intellectual property that will outlive you, assign an executor for that portion of your estate and also specify to whom the proceeds of the IP go.

The important thing is to actually make a will. Lots of people never get around to it which means their estate goes into probate, which is long and drawn out and often means people you don't like or care about get what you leave behind, or are in control of your IP. It's important to do it, and especially if you have IP that will outlive you. Don't wait.
posted by jscalzi at 10:16 AM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thinking about this myself on the cusp of 40
My brother (slightly younger) is the beneficiary of my 401K and work-provided life insurance. I trust him to do whatever he sees fit, whether pass it to my nephew and niece or use for other family needs. Assuming I outlive my student loans, I hope to build up savings worth donating, but may just leave it to my brother as well.
posted by TravellingCari at 11:38 AM on September 24, 2019

Response by poster: Oh, I do have IP! I hadn't even thought about that, that's a great point.
(not that it's probably going to be a large income source, but yayyy my book is coming out in less than a month!)
posted by exceptinsects at 11:38 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

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