Millennial Estate Planning - From Basics to Brilliant (1 of 3)

First things first, this is a post about millennials, but it’s worth reading even if you aren’t one. You’ve got children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends and family who, despite their best efforts, were born in the millennial generation. They need to read this, so please feel free to share this post with them. I’ve also included some bullet points below for speed readers.

  • Millennials need to address estate planning issues because traditional statutory fallbacks don’t address increasingly common millennial lifestyles.

  • If you don’t want to get married but are building a life with someone, protect their interests in your estate and empower them to assist you should you become incapacitated. 

  • If you have a child (with or without a partner) appoint a guardian should something happen to you.

  • Protect your digital assets. Make sure your estate plan covers email accounts, social media accounts, websites, online businesses, cryptocurrency wallets and downloaded media.

So I’m currently at the Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning attending their 53rd annual conference. It’s basically the Super Bowl for estate planning lawyers, which sounds like the beginning of a lawyer joke. Speaking of, I heard an awesome lawyer joke in the exhibit hall.

“How many lawyer jokes are there? Three. The rest are true stories.”

But back to the conference. Looking at the schedule and reading over the presentations, in my opinion there is a fairly large hole that isn’t being proactively addressed this week – millennial estate planning. Now, before you pass out from a laughing fit over reading the words “millennial” and “planning” that close together, stick with me. 

The statutes that our most common estate planning tools and techniques are built to address were, in some instances, drafted around the time Edison was perfecting the electric light bulb. So, needless to say, things have changed. Although there are literally dozens of specific instances where I think millennials need specific estate planning guidance, here are a few big picture items I think can be addressed right away. 

Millennials are delaying or often totally eschewing traditional family formation, choosing to build a life with a partner but never formally getting married. While I don’t have any issue with that, the statutes of many states do, because they fail to address this “non-traditional” style of relationship. Most of the time, a decedent or incapacitated person’s legal spouse, by operation of law, steps in to inherit, control assets and provide medical directives. But if you aren’t legally married, none of those automatic statutes operate for you. Make sure you have, at the very least, a simple will naming your partner as your beneficiary (if that’s what you want). Definitely look into a medical surrogate document, living will and possibly a power of attorney. Pay a lawyer to do this for you, it’s worth it. 

Many millennials are having children with a partner (or on their own) but aren’t getting married. As any parent will tell you, having a child is a lifetime responsibility. I’d like to politely add that the responsibility should extend beyond your lifetime too. Talk to an adult you’d trust with your child should something happen to you, and if they agree, name them as your child’s guardian should you pass or become incapacitated. Pay a lawyer to do this (notice a theme developing here?). Take it a step further and talk to a fiduciary financial advisor about buying an insurance policy to fund your child’s needs should you pass. 

A will or power of attorney protects your real and personal assets, but you should protect your digital assets too. Email accounts, social media accounts, websites, online businesses, cryptocurrency wallets and downloaded media are all example of digital assets. What a lot of people don’t know is that unless you have an estate plan that specifically addresses digital assets, it might be very difficult for your beneficiaries or loved ones to access those assets. Keep a username/password/security question list in a secure location (paper, while analog, isn’t a bad choice here) so that your “digital executor” can access your accounts. Don’t let your dollars get deleted. 

I’ll be writing more in the coming weeks about millennial estate planning, this is just a start. 

*Disclaimer* - Although Andrew K. McDowell, Esq., CFP®, CDFA® is a Florida-licensed attorney and Certified Financial Planner™, this should not be considered individual investment advice, tax advice or legal advice, nor is it an invitation to buy or sell securities.