Estate planning is often associated with middle age or even the retirement years. Millennials, who range in age from 18 to 36, are often too busy managing student loan debt, building careers, and buying homes to give much thought to their mortality. Like other young adults, they may still feel invincible.
On the contrary, these years are the best time to start estate planning. As less traditional family arrangements take over and options expand, you must be prepared in case the worst occurs. If you are younger than 40, here is what you need to do at a minimum for your estate plan and why you should think beyond that.
The Bare Minimum
If you have more debt than assets, never had children, and do not own real estate, it may be difficult to comprehend the importance of a will. There is some truth to this: If you are 24, single, and childless, you likely do not need a large complex estate plan unless you are blessed with early success.
At the very least, start with the bare minimum of estate planning; an advance directive and a power of attorney. Both of these documents are vital for continuing your affairs should you face incapacitation.
An advance directive outlines your preferences for health care should you be rendered incapable of communicating your treatment preferences. This document appoints a healthcare representative to make these decisions on your behalf and indicates your preferences regarding life-sustaining treatment.
Your health care representative can be anyone you trust with that decision including a parent, sibling, best friend or live-in partner. They will act as your voice when you cannot speak. Before you appoint them, let them know what you plan to do, and perhaps have a conversation regarding your medical preferences.
The advance directive also allows you to limit life-sustaining treatment. Many people prefer not to be kept alive by artificial means if they are rendered permanently incapacitated after an accident or terminal illness. These situations often cause substantial heartbreak not only because of the tragedy involved but also when friends, family, and partners have no idea of your preferences.
You can make this a little easier by making your wishes known through an advance directive. This is a complimentary service when you meet with Diane L. Gruber of Gruber & Associates for estate planning.
Power of Attorney
It is often assumed that if you are incapacitated your spouse, parents or cohabitating partner will handle your affairs for you. Unfortunately, if your accounts and business interests are held only in your name, your helpful loved ones will not be able to access them. This can make it impossible for them to make your student loan payments or even take a pet to the vet.
A power of attorney makes this possible. While you recover from what limits you, the agent you appoint in the power of attorney document can have access to your assets. This allows them to pay your bills and even apply for disability benefits on your behalf. If you do not execute a power of attorney, these tasks become difficult. Depending on the extent of your incapacitation, your loved ones may even have to go to court to appoint a conservator to act on your behalf!
These two documents will help in moments of unexpected developments. However, you should consider a will in case the worst occurs.
Why a Will?
Many young adults fail to execute a will because they focus on what they do not have. They do not own real estate or make a substantial income. Some of you may not have children or even a partner. So, why draft a will?
You draft a will because of what you gained so far in life. Even without a large stock portfolio or a mortgage, there are still items that require care should you meet an untimely demise.
You consider your pets family but the law still considers them property. Oregon law has slightly backed off from this with court precedent finding that animals have awareness and allowing animal control officers to act on an animal abuse situation with the same urgency as harm to a person. But that does not help your animal from being vulnerable should something happen to you.
Just as you can name a guardian for children in your will, you can also do the same for a pet. You can name your cohabitating partner or a friend who loves your animals. A will also allows you to name a backup guardian in case your primary appointee cannot care for your pets.
Some people even establish pet trusts to assure good care. You can do this even if you lack assets. Purchase a life insurance policy and make the pet trust your beneficiary. Or if you trust your pet guardian, name them as the beneficiary with the understanding the funds are meant to help them care for your animals.
Basically, establishing a caretaker for your pets in a will assures they are safe if anything happens to you. It also makes the process of rehoming your animals much easier on your family.
There is a movement away from tradition as more young adults decide to cohabitate before marriage. This can have unfortunate consequences if you pass away.
Unless you marry your partner, they have no rights to your assets after death. The intestate statutes, which dictate the distribution of property when someone dies without a will, do not make allowances for non-married partners. You could be engaged but if you die in a horrible accident the day before the wedding, your partner will still be treated as a non-entity by the intestate proceedings.
This can lead to distressful consequences. For example, let’s say you own a home with a mortgage. If you die, the mortgage holder will liquidate the house to pay off the debt.
If you have a will, you can dictate that the equity from that sale passes to your partner. Even if that is only $3,000, that is still enough for them to find a new place to live. However, without a will, that $3,000 will not pass to your partner. It will first go to any children you have, and if you do not have children, your parents and then to your siblings.
This goes for any property you own, including cars, furniture, and other assets. There is no way you can pass property to an unmarried partner without a will.
If you are a single parent, a will helps you designate guardians for your children. Unless you do so, the court will make this determination.
This is not ideal if you are estranged from your family. Your children may be closer to a friend or your live-in partner. However, the court is more likely to grant custody to family members. Even if you come from a close family, it is likely a particular sibling is better suited to take custody of your children.
Guardianship is another preference that is enforceable only through a will. Even if you do not feel you have any other reason to sign a will, if you have children, this reason alone is sufficient.
Many millennials appoint “digital executors.” These are people with access to your social media and other online accounts. Their job is to manage your digital assets should something happen to you.
Sites like Twitter and Facebook are notoriously bad at dealing with death. Pages often remain accessible with reminders going out to friends and family about your birthday and other milestone events. Unfortunately, without someone knowing your passwords, it is often impossible to shut down these accounts.
There are other digital assets that could also prove troublesome. If you rent out a room on Airbnb, the platform will continue making that room available for rent until someone shuts down the account. Your family could be at your home grieving and sorting your possessions only for an Airbnb patron to suddenly show up wanting access to the rented room.
Besides these accounts, you likely own Kindle books, iTune music libraries, and maintain subscriptions on Audible or Netflix. Unless you appoint someone to deal with these online accounts, they will likely continue charging bank accounts or accruing balances after you pass away, causing more issues that will delay the closure of your estate.
There are other estate planning options that could be relevant to your situation. If your children have special needs or you are a trust beneficiary, you likely need to review your situation and create a more customized estate plan.
Planning now is a good precaution. At the very least, it starts a habit that will make wealth management easier as you become older. To start the estate planning process, contact Diane L. Gruber, Attorney at Law to schedule a consultation.