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The challenges the childless face in estate planning

Estate planning is a legally complex and emotionally charged process. However, it is a necessary step to communicate and document as to the dispersal of assets and financial accounts, including 401(k) plans and life insurance policies.

Proactive steps involved in establishing trusts and powers of attorney can bring peace of mind to children and other loved ones already dealing with tragedy.

Yet, perhaps the largest challenge people face in making estate planning decisions is when they have no heirs or surviving spouses. While the benefit in building sizable estates is to provide security for children and family members, those without beneficiaries do not have that option.

Forsaking the drafting of a will (currently at 64 percent according to a Harris poll) may seem like the only option. However, it relinquishes control of the estate to the court system. Probate judges make the tough, yet crucial estate planning decisions in the absence of any named beneficiaries.

For those who are childless, charitable giving is an option by setting up a foundation. They can have a say in distributing money to benefit others. Scholarships are common for those who did not experience children benefiting from a good education. These programs can be tailored to specific stipulations they establish. For those who start charitable giving while they are alive, they get to see the results of their philanthropy.

A bank with a trust division can serve in the role of personal representative. Longtime customers loyal to their financial institutions have built up trusting relationships over the years. While a fee may be involved for the service, the estate would likely be in good hands.

No perfect scenario exists for anyone, with or without children. As with anything that involves estate planning, doing something is better than doing nothing.