Recently released 2010 census data reported by the Virginia Pilot reveals that the percentage of married households in Virginia stands at its lowest level in decades– just 50.2 percent of all Virginia households. While this change may be due to an increase in unmarried partners and other “non-traditional” families, aging baby boomers, such as widows and older divorced people, have also contributed to the shift. As a result, more than a quarter of all households in Virginia now consist of just one person.
Regardless of the “whys” behind the numbers, one thing is clear: single people have unique legal needs. When an unmarried person becomes incapacitated or dies, there’s often no obvious go-to person, such as a spouse, to take the reigns of their affairs. As a result, it’s crucial for single people to protet themselves and their assets, using some or all of the following:
1. Will. Okay, so this one should be obvious. But you’d be surprised how many single people–especially young singles–put this off, thinking it’s only for people with kids or significant assets. But unless you’re fine with the Virginia Code determining who receives your money and property, a will is a must-have.
2. Durable Power of Attorney (POA). This document designates a person (called an “agent”) of your choice to manage your financial affairs. A POA can cover long-term situations such as a chronic or terminal illness, or much less serious situations, like a temporary illness or injury. POA’s in Virginia are fully customizable to give your agent as much–or as little–power as you want.
3. Living Will. Most people know what a living will is, but again, many put off making one. Simply put, a living will directs your health care providers to withold medical care if such care would only prolong the dying process. Without a living will, you may be leaving crucial decisions to family members who are unaware of, or do not respect, your wishes.
4. Medical POA/Advance Medical Directive. Like a durable POA, a Medical POA names an agent to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them yourself. It’s important to clearly authorize someone you trust to act on your behalf, especially if you anticipate family members or significant others to clash over your care.
5. HIPPA Waiver/Authorization. This one’s a little less obvious. Most of us know it only as the nuisance form we sign at the doctor’s office. This document authorizes your health care provider to release information to the people you choose. For single people, this form is necessary if you want a significant other or friend to be able to discuss your care with a doctor. Rather than signing waivers piecemeal, for each doctor, you can sign a blanket waiver that can be presented to all providers.
The above list isn’t exhaustive, and based on your situation, different documents may better protect you. The only way to be sure you’ve got your bases covered is to consult with a licensed Virginia attorney.