What millennials need to know about estate planning

A recent survey by senior-living focused website Caring.com, quoted in USA Today, revealed that 78 percent of Americans under the age of 36 don’t have a will or trust in place. But even with youth on their side, the millennial generation needs to be planning for the unforeseen. If most would consider the following three issues, they’d be off to a good start:

  • Incapacitation provisions: No one expects to be incapacitated, but there are at least two documents needed in the event that occurs. The first is a durable power of attorney that identifies who will make financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. The second is a health care advance directive (including a living will) that outlines preferences for medical care if you are unable to state these for yourself.
  • Death documents: These include a last will and testament and possibly the establishment of a trust, either revocable or testamentary.
  • Beneficiary designations: Keep these up to date for things including life insurance and 401(k) programs.

Many millennials assume they don’t have assets worth protecting yet, but are actually unaware of the range of assets that need to be addressed for a proper estate plan. These include:

  • Retirement accounts
  • Life insurance policies (personally owned policies as well as policies purchased by or through an employer)
  • Real estate, vehicles, boats, jewelry, electronics and home furnishings
  • Family memorabilia. These are often quite important items, although they may not have a high degree of monetary value
  • Pets
  • Digital assets, including a complete list of accounts and passwords

What if you don’t have the proper estate-planning documents in place? What are the risks? Typically, default rules may apply.

For issues that are covered by durable powers of attorney and health care advance directives, the default for a minor is that a parent (or parents) makes decisions on their behalf. But past the age of 18, it will be necessary for parents to get a court order appointing them as guardians if such documents aren’t in place prior to the onset of incapacitation.

In many states, if unmarried individuals with no children die without a will, regardless of their age, the estate reverts to parents. If you are an unmarried individual without a spouse or children and want to select siblings or a significant other rather than your parents, you should specify that choice in the appropriate documents.

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