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What Single People Need to Know About Estate Planning

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Estate planning may be different for single people than for those in relationships, but it’s just as important for leaving behind a legacy you can be proud of.

Whether you’re single by choice or circumstance, you may look at estate planning very differently than someone who is married or has children. You may even think that, without heirs or a spouse, you don’t need an estate plan.

The fact is, you have assets, and those assets should be protected. Not only that, your healthcare decisions deserve to be documented and honoured, especially if you’re no longer in a position to speak for yourself. No matter what your relationship status is, your life and legacy are important.

Here are some of the questions most commonly asked by single people about estate plans.

I’m single and childless; I don’t have to worry about taking care of anyone when I’m gone. Why do I need an estate plan?

You may not have any dependents or a spouse to protect or provide for once you pass, but you do still have to protect yourself. Dying intestate (without a will) as a single, childless person means that your estate falls under the rules of intestate succession in your province or territory. While the rules vary slightly per province and territory, in general your estate will be passed to heirs in this order: parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. If there are no heirs or named beneficiaries, your estate will fall to the government. If you want to control who receives your estate, you need to create a will.

Even if you don’t have dependents or family to take care of, there may be charities or organizations that are meaningful to you. Leaving your assets to a worthy cause is a wonderful way to leave a lasting legacy.

Estate planning is more than just distributing assets after you’re gone though. It also involves making sure you’re cared for as you age. For example, you should appoint someone who can make financial and medical decisions on your behalf. This can be done with a power of attorney document for financial matters and advance care planning documents for medical decisions.

Medical decisions typically default to a spouse if unspecified, or to adult children. So, as a single person without children, you will need to designate attorneys (a person you appoint in your power of attorney is called an “attorney” even if they're not a lawyer) and substitute decision makers for medical decisions.

Whether you choose to designate friends, extended family members, or a professional, make sure you record your wishes (visit our Advance Care Planning resource for downloadable forms) and store them somewhere accessible (hint: EstateBox was designed to safely store and organize your important documents).

I’m single with kids - everything will just go to them, right?

An estate plan is about much more than who will acquire the monetary value of your estate. If you have children that are still dependents, your estate plan also ensures that they will be properly taken care of by someone you trust if you pass away or become incapable of caring for them due to illness or injury.

If another legal guardian is present in your children’s lives, they will most likely assume full custody. If no other legal guardian is present, you will need to designate someone who has consented to caring for your children for any period of time. You may need childcare support for a week, years, or permanently; either way it is important that you arrange this before it is necessary.

Legislation for standby guardianship (in the event of illness or injury) varies across Canada. For example, in BC, it’s possible to appoint a standby guardian to care for your children if you’re temporarily unable to. However, the legal framework for this type of guardianship doesn’t exist in every province and territory. Working with a lawyer who has experience with this type of planning will ensure that your children are taken care of according to your wishes.

A parent cooking in the kitchen with their child.

If you want to leave assets to minor children, it isn’t as simple as putting them in your will. Underage children are unable to receive inheritance or property until they are of legal age. If you don’t make the proper arrangements, your child’s inheritance will be placed in a trust and a court-appointed trustee will manage the funds until they are of legal age. If you want a friend or family member to act as trustee, or if you want to place specific stipulations on the inheritance, it’s critical that you plan in advance.

How do I choose executors or substitute decision makers?

Preparing an advance healthcare directive (including substitute decision makers), creating a power of attorney legal document for your finances and property, and appointing executors should be high on your priority list. Naming more than one person for each of these roles is important as it ensures that if one is ever unavailable, there’s someone else who can legally make healthcare decisions on your behalf and manage your finances or estate. Given the importance of these roles, it can be hard to decide who is the best for the job.

Here are some things to consider when making these crucial decisions:

Where they are located

Your executors must reside within Canada to avoid significant tax consequences. Otherwise, your estate could be liable for additional taxes in the executors’ foreign jurisdiction. Ideally, your executors should live in the same province or territory as you because all decisions made and procedures done to settle your estate will be done in your province or territory of residence. It is simpler and more efficient if your executors live in the same province or territory or have the means to travel to you and your estate.

Attorneys are only necessary while you're still alive, but unable to manage your finances. Given that they're often used in the event of an unexpected medical emergency, your attorneys should ideally be located close enough that they could step in at a moment’s notice, should something happen to you.

When making a decision about these roles, remember to think into the future and ask yourself, why are your chosen executors or attorneys living where they are? Are they here for work? Is their family elsewhere? You can’t predict where people will be in 30 years, but if they plan to move out of province or territory eventually, they may not be the best choice.

What kind of person they are

When looking at the characteristics of a good executor, expertise isn’t everything. Your close friend may be a financial advisor, but if you don’t find them to be detail-oriented or punctual, they probably aren’t your best option. One of the most important characteristics of an executor is willingness. Your executors need to be willing and able to do the job at any time, starting with the day they are appointed.

After you ask someone to be one of your executors, they may ask for time to do research about what the job entails. We compiled a list of questions potential executors should ask themselves before accepting the role, as well as an executor guide and checklist.

Similarly, when selecting your attorneys or substitute decision makers, remember that you are designating someone to make crucial, life-altering decisions on your behalf. The people who fill these roles should not only have your best interests in mind, but should also be willing to follow through on your wishes without judgement.

How old they are

When choosing executors, age is important; you need to choose people who will be able to take on the role when you pass. Therefore, choosing someone older than you, or even close to you in age is generally not recommended. If you do choose someone your age as one of your executors, make sure you have at least one other executor who is younger. It’s also important to re-evaluate your executors every five years or after a significant life event, whichever happens first.

Keep in mind that your executors must be at least 18 or 19 years old at the time they are appointed, depending on the age of majority in your province or territory. Make sure your executors will be capable of the job from the moment they are appointed - don’t appoint someone with the mindset that they will be ready for the job in the future.

Sometimes, it is best to choose someone without personal or emotional connections. Professional executors are a good option if your assets or family are complex, or you don’t wish to burden loved ones with the responsibility. You can read more about professional executors here.

Bonus: Review your choices

A common misconception is that once your estate plan is written, it is set in stone. This isn’t true - it is important to review and update your estate plan and designated roles frequently. You may lose touch with certain friends that are a big part of your estate plan or realize that they aren’t the best person for the job - that’s ok! Just remember to update your estate plan as things change.

What should I do if I made an estate plan while I was in a relationship that has now ended?

If you were previously in a relationship with connected finances you need to take extra care that you have the right beneficiary designations on your life insurance, retirement, and bank accounts that reflect your current wishes. If you are newly single, it is also important to review your estate plan, including advance care planning and power of attorney documents. Make sure that if you were to become incapacitated or pass unexpectedly, you have the right people designated to make decisions on your behalf.

Why should I begin estate planning now?

All adults should take the time to plan for the future, today. If you are single and plan to remain single as you grow old, planning far in advance is especially important as you’ll likely rely entirely on yourself financially. If something unexpected happens, you don't want your carefully considered estate plan to sit in a drawer or a shoebox under your bed where no one can find it. It should be carefully organized and stored somewhere accessible.

Uploading estate planning documents to a safe and secure platform like EstateBox and recording where the physical copies are located are easy ways to ensure they’ll never be misplaced. Simply add the people you’ve appointed to take care of you and your legacy as delegates to your EstateBox. This way, they’ll have access to all your important documents, no matter what happens.

Create your account today and enjoy a 60-day free trial (no credit card or code required) to help you get started on your life and legacy plan.

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While we’re passionate about all things estate planning, we’re not professionals. We recommend speaking with your lawyer or financial advisor when putting together an estate plan.

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