Generally, most estate planning literature focuses on married individuals. However, according to the Census Bureau, in 2013 almost half of Americans age 15 and older were single. If you are single and die intestate (without a will) your money will be distributed in ways you may not like.

Where the Money Will Go if You Die Without a Will: In New York, if you are single, 100% of your assets would pass to your children (if any). If there are no children, then your assets would pass to your parents (if any are alive). If there are no parents, then your assets would pass to your siblings, and some other more distant relatives. If there are no close relatives, then your money may go to the state. Charity, friends, pets, and unmarried partners will not receive anything.

Update the Beneficiary Designations: If you are divorced, you should check and update the beneficiary designation on all your financial instruments: IRAs, pension plans, bank accounts, life insurance policies. Otherwise, your ex-spouse may receive some of the money.  

Creating Documents to Fulfill Your Wishes: If you want your money to be distributed to a particular person or an organization, then you should create a will or a revocable trust. Those documents list how you want the money to be distributed, and name an executor (for the will) and a trustee (for any trust that you create). If your parents are elderly and may need to receive government programs, then you can still leave money to them through a Supplemental Needs Trust, ensuring that their programs will not be jeopardized.  

Plan for Incapacity: If you become incapacitated, your friends and relatives may have to go through a long, intrusive and expensive court procedure called “Guardianship” in order to be able to take care of your health and your financials. In order to avoid this process, you can execute Advance Directives.  A Power of Attorney specifies who can take care of your financial affairs. A Health Care Proxy specifies who can take care of your health care decisions. A Living Will specifies what kind of procedures you would want to be performed if you cannot make these decisions.

Think About Minor Children: If you are single and you have minor children, you should consider who will be their guardian and custodian in the event of your demise. A guardian and a custodian can only be named through a valid will. You should also think about when you would want your children to receive your money. If you do not leave any directions and do not set up a trust for their benefit, then the children will receive the money as soon as they turn 18.