In a recent Caring.com article, author Nick DiUlio reveals some troubling, though perhaps unsurprising, statistics regarding wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents: only 4 in 10 Americans have them. What’s worse, only 36 percent of parents with children under the age of 18 have an end-of-life plan.
The reasons for such dismal numbers seem to coalesce around age and affluence. Just 22 percent of Millennials have a will, and Generation X is only slightly better off at 36 percent. Baby Boomers, the oldest of whom are around 70 years of age, are the most prepared group with 60 percent having an estate plan. While I can (almost) give Millennials a pass on this – honestly, who plans for their own death at 20? – it’s harder to explain the older groups’ reluctance to plan for the inevitable. Many comprise the “sandwich generation,” a term that refers to people who find themselves caring for aging parents along with their own children. For such people, the circumstances of daily life would seem to highlight the necessity of planning ahead. Additionally, most Boomers have experienced, either firsthand or through a friend or family member, a wide range of end-of-life issues – retirement, declining health, waning capacity, and so on. This makes it difficult to understand why 40 percent of Baby Boomers – the generation statistically nearest to the end of life – are wholly unprepared for it.
What makes more sense is that people who have more assets tend to be more prepared. Of those persons without a will, 29 percent said it was because “they don’t have enough assets to leave to anyone,” evincing a misconception that estate planning documents are only for people with substantial wealth. Of course, those people should make plans for distributing their assets at death – sometimes considerable tax consequences result from not doing so – but the reality is that everyone should have a will. Why?
Because it’s not about you.
First, no matter how few assets a person may have, or how meager they may be, those things will mean something to someone after that person is gone. An inexpensive wristwatch, for example, can seem priceless to a child after her father dies, because the knowledge that daddy wore it every day keeps her heart connected to his memory. I have a fountain pen in my drawer that belonged to my uncle, one of several he collected during his life. By any measure, it’s a lousy pen – it’s heavy, the nib doesn’t write smoothly, and every so often it leaks on my clothes. But I wouldn’t trade that pen for the world, simply because it once belonged to my uncle. Having a will does more than just distribute stuff; it connects people to the memory of those who have passed on.
Second, and maybe more importantly, even people with very few assets leave behind grieving friends and family members. Coming to terms with the loss of a loved one is emotionally overwhelming, and the last thing most relatives want to deal with is choosing whether Frank or Bob should get grandpa’s flat screen TV. By deciding in advance which assets should go to which beneficiary, a person can shield family members from the burden of making those choices at such a challenging time. In this regard, a will or trust gives the distraught family a calm reassurance that things will be done exactly as their loved one wanted. It sounds cliché, but planning ahead really does show others how much you care.
Are you ready for tomorrow?