For singles and couples without children, disability planning, in addition to death planning, is a major decision. Disability planning means legally appointing people who will be in charge of your affairs if you become incapacitated.

For couples, the obvious person to be in charge of your affairs is your partner. If one partner of the couple dies or is incapacitated, then the remaining person has the same dilemma as a single person - naming the right person to be in charge in case of disability.

Often a family member or close friend is the right choice. But what if no one is right for the role?

Such important decisions often lead to procrastination. Yes, you know you must plan, but it may become a back-burner idea to be dealt with later, or never.

Without proper disability planning, you run the risk of a guardianship proceeding in which a judge determines if you are incapacitated. In some cases, the judge appoints someone you may not even know as your legal guardian. Guardianship proceedings are time-consuming, expensive, invasive into your privacy (the government is in control of your life), and if you become well again, you have to legally prove to the judge that you can manage your affairs.

A living trust, or lifetime trust, meaning a trust created during your lifetime, allows you to be in charge of your affairs as your own trustee while you are well. You also name backup trustees, people who will be in charge of the trust if you are incapacitated. You avoid a guardianship proceeding and keep the government out of your affairs.

The question is whom to choose as backup agents for singles and couples without children. It makes sense to choose two people. One co-trustee may be a friend or family member. The other co-trustee may be a lawyer. The friend or relative then has less pressure and responsibility. The lawyer has the legal expertise to make sure the trust runs properly. You reduce the risk of mistakes and mishandling of money. Although you may trust a friend or family member, other people may exert undue influence in management decisions.

Singles and couples without children also need to sign powers of attorney and health care proxies/living wills. Powers of attorney name people who will make legal and financial decisions in case of disability. Health care proxies name people who will make medical decisions. Living wills express end-of-life desires, such as resuscitation. These documents also avoid a guardianship proceeding and preserve your autonomy in case of incapacity.

Bonnie Kraham is an attorney practicing elder law estate planning with Ettinger Law Firm, 75 Crystal Run Road, Middletown. She can be reached at 845-692-8700, ext. 119 or bkraham@trustlaw.com. This column is intended to provide general information, not legal advice.