I’ve always been fascinated by how generations differ. I’m an “old school” or “early” Millennial: a traditionalist with a modern twist. We Millennials (born between 1981-1995) typically were raised by at least one Baby Boomer, and so, we expected to have the same life trajectory as they did: reasonable college tuition, job security, an early ability to accumulate wealth, and getting married and having children in our mid-to-late 20s and early 30s.
But times changed. Instead of following our parents’ secure path, Millennials came of age during the Great Recession and struggled to finance expensive higher education. As a result, we tend to spend and invest cautiously, focus aggressively on career advancement, work hard toward future financial stability, and defer marriage and child rearing. With our major life events delayed, you might think that estate planning—the signing of wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and health care proxies—would be the last thing on our minds. But recent trends prove the opposite: Millennials are flocking to estate planning lawyers. Why? Because our life experiences demand planning, and Covid has raised the stakes.
Here are six common Millennial profiles and issues that estate planning helps to mitigate:
1. Single individual, mid 30s to early 40s, no children, just bought a home or other large investment
- Without a will, this Millennial’s assets will pass to his or her immediate heirs: a living parent, if any, then to living siblings. Some clients do not like that result. They opt instead to give their estate to charity and/or to close friends at death.
2. Married with young children
- This couple rushes to estate planners mainly to name guardians for their children, in case both parents die at once.
- The couple thinks also about their children’s financial future. Many purchase large life insurance policies to cover the high mortgage on their home and pay for their children’s education.
3. Married, often when older, to someone who has children; he or she does not have children from a previous relationship
- This couple sets up an estate plan to provide an equitable distribution of assets among the surviving spouse and the children who are stepchildren to one of them.
- Trusts are often used for this type of planning since complications may arise when the couple has not had any additional children together.
4. Single female or married couple engaged in assisted reproductive technology (ART)
- Infertility or other complications lead some people to use ART, which encompasses a variety of reproductive methods such as in vitro fertilization, donation of sperm and eggs by others, and cryopreservation (egg freezing). This has prompted a rise in complex issues in case of divorce, death, and posthumous reproduction. Is the commissioning egg to be disposed? If so, how? If not, where does it go? These are issues that are dealt with either by statutory law and/or with an estate plan. To date, Massachusetts does not have law on the books regarding ART.
5. Married couple with no children
- Without an estate plan, if one spouse dies and the couple has no children, Massachusetts intestacy law provides that the deceased spouse’s living parents are entitled to a portion of the deceased’s estate. Many married people do not want that outcome. Planning avoids it and ensures that the surviving spouse benefits from the entire estate.
6. Two individuals in a long-term relationship who remain unmarried
- Unless this couple sets up an estate plan, the survivor has no legal right to the decedent’s assets.
- A will and trust allow them to express their wishes to take care of the other as though they were married.
All of this is to say, if you are a Millennial—or not, and dealing with any of the above issues—that now is a good time to plan ahead for an increasingly uncertain future by talking with an estate planning attorney. And while we’re on the subject, for Gen Z-ers, who are just turning 18 or older, be sure to have a health care proxy in place, especially during Covid times. We welcome your questions and would be pleased to help you create a plan that meets your specific needs and circumstances.
Image: Emma Frances Logan