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Why you need an estate plan if you have no heirs

Many baby boomers who are hitting their senior years are divorced, widowed or have remained single their whole lives. A number of them never had children. If you have no heirs, is there any reason to have an estate plan?

There is if you want a say in what happens to your assets after you die. If you don't have any immediate family, it's also important to determine who will oversee your financial obligations and your medical care if you become incapacitated and can't do so yourself. This involves giving one or more people powers of attorney for these matters.

People who have no close family often leave their assets to charitable organizations or an alma mater. One certified financial planner says that he works with clients to "find out what they're passionate about."

He says that one client established a foundation to provide scholarships to deserving kids attending the school where she once taught. If you can afford to start giving away your money while you're still alive, as this woman did, he notes, "you get to see the fruits of your labor."

Choosing the person who will oversee the handling of your estate is also a crucial decision for people who don't have any immediate family. It's essential to choose someone who is trustworthy and up to the task of administering your estate. When people don't have a close friend or someone else in their lives whom they feel can handle this responsibility, they sometimes choose a financial institution that offers this service (for a fee, of course) to handle the estate.

As one financial professional cautions, "Don't let the fact that you don't know the perfect way to do [an estate plan] make you do nothing at all." By talking with an experienced attorney, you can develop an estate plan that will meet your unique needs.

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