If you are currently single, you are not alone. Over 40% of all adults 18 years and older are single. And if you live in Manhattan, you live in the borough with the most singles in New York City (61.4%). Chances are that you are working, have a 401(k), some assets, and maybe a pet or two. Chances also are that you don’t have a Will.
Why is this an important issue? Because the percentage of single people in this country is rising faster than the percentage of married persons. According to a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau report, singles in this country break down statistically into the following groups:
95.9 million: Number of unmarried Americans 18 and older in 2008. This group comprised 43 percent of all U.S. residents 18 and older.
53%: Percentage of unmarried Americans 18 and older who were women.
61%: Percentage of unmarried Americans 18 and older who had never been married. Another 24 percent were divorced, and 15 percent were widowed.
15.8 million: Number of unmarried Americans 65 and older. These older Americans comprised 16 percent of all unmarried and single people 18 and older.
87: Number of unmarried men 18 and older for every 100 unmarried women in the United States.
52.9 million: Number of households maintained by unmarried men or women. These households comprised 45 percent of households nationwide.
32.2 million: Number of people who lived alone. They comprised 28 percent of all households, up from 17 percent in 1970.
Source for statements in this section: America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2008
In an article titled “Single New Yorkers, Ahead of the Pack,” the New York Times tacked the issue of what “single” means today (it is an especially relevant term as we all fill out our Census forms). In New York City according to the American Community Survey conducted between 2005 and 2007, the Times reported the following numbers of singles by borough:
Staten Island is 41.0 percent single with 26.5 percent never married.
Queens is 46.3 percent single with 30.9 percent never married.
Brooklyn is 52.4 percent single with 37.0 percent never married.
The Bronx is 57.6 percent single with 41.6 percent never married.
Manhattan is 61.4 percent single with 45.9 percent never married.
Many single people do not have a Will. That may be because they believe that their worldly possessions will go to their families; that one should draft a Will only if there is a spouse or a child involved; or that they do not have enough assets to make a difference. And while these assumptions may be true in many cases, many singles have not considered the consequences of dying without a Will (intestate) on their families. Writing a Will may be one of the kindest acts that one can do for one’s family.
So why is it so important for a single person to have a Will? In New York, the statute that governs the distribution of the estate of a person who dies without a Will is EPTL § 4-1.1. For example, if you are single with no children and you die without a Will, New York State will award your property to your parents. If your parents are deceased, then your property will be divided among your siblings and their heirs. If you have no siblings, your property will go to the State of New York.
But is that always the best result? Let’s imagine some scenarios for Client X, a single person living in New York, with two siblings and both parents living. Let’s say that one of Client X’s parents becomes seriously ill requiring nursing home care. The ailing parent meets the Medicaid income eligibility standards for nursing home care. The non-ailing parent goes to live with Client X’s eldest sibling. Client X dies without a Will, leaving behind substantial savings that get awarded to Client X’s parents. As a result, Client X’s ailing parent may now be required to contribute towards the nursing home costs. Instead, Client X could have left his savings to his siblings in his Will, with a greater share to the sibling taking care of the non-ailing parent.
Client Y is single and an only child whose parents have predeceased her. Client Y owns her home. If she dies intestate, the home will escheat to the State of New York. But Client Y is a loyal alum of Education University (EU) and attends every alumni function. Instead of her home going to the State after her death, she can gift her home to EU as a charitable bequest in her Will, and designate that any proceeds from the sale of her home after her death be used for student scholarships.
As these two scenarios illustrate, a single person should draft a Will with the assistance of an attorney to take into account the best interests of loved ones left behind. Your attorney will assess your individual needs and draft a document that will suit your interests and the interests of those who remain after your passing.
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