While the Millennial generation can be defined as widely as children born in the late 70’s to those born in the early 2000s, the fact is that some of them are already becoming alarmingly close to retirement age—and pushing their Baby Boomer or Silent Generation parents or grandparents ahead of them.
While the Silent Generation is almost fully retired and the oldest Baby Boomers are beginning the process, the realities of estate planning are bearing down on all of these demographic groups. According to a 2018 study by the U.S. Trust, sixty-seven percent of adults over the age of fifty are looking for ways to distribute their earnings to their children and grandchildren. As student loans bend the Millennial generation to the breaking point, causing many to put off marriage, home ownership, or starting a family, the generations who preceded them are eager to help them in ways their parents could not or did not.
With Millennials and members of Generation X earning college diplomas and advanced degrees more than any other demographic in American history, they also tend to be the most in debt. Educated both after the spiraling grade inflation of the Vietnam War and the rapid rise in tuition following the expansion of government grants, members of Gen X were the first to face down insanely high college costs, followed by even more insanely high costs incurred by the Millennial generation.
Both members of Gen X and the Millennial generation who went to college are guilty of majoring in, and therefore perpetuating, the expansion of niche or low-hire college majors buried deep in the humanities (for example, majors such as women’s studies are grouped under such umbrellas as “anthropology”), or choosing to enter fields which do not pay well. This, plus a stagnant job market for many years of their working lives, means that these newly minted college graduates have been hobbling along with gig work, job hopping, or career changes which require beginning at the entry level later in life. It is extremely rare for a member of either of these generations, even if they are hired into and stay with the same career field, to work for the same company for the duration-- as their parents and grandparents did.
Since many members of these generations have been struggling mightily merely to make ends meet or beat back the student loans beast, retirement and estate planning is the last financial issue on their minds. Baby boomers who may have shifted the entire tuition burden to their children now see the consequences of high-cost, low-return decisions.
Baby boomers and members of the Silent Generation who wish to nudge their struggling children and grandchildren to more responsible fiscal decisions face several problems, among them the precedents they have set and the fact that they are now attempting to guide fully grown adults, some of whom might have children or even grandchildren of their own.
One solution is to model the behavior Boomers would like to see in their descendants. If the parents themselves have not made provisions for funeral costs, estate documents, last will and testament, or trusts, it’s singularly difficult to order younger generations to do so.
Putting your own affairs in order also provides a conversational window to ask children and grandchildren what they might be doing with their own estates. Point out, for example, that you may be co-signers on your children’s student loans, and they may want to research what that means for them if you or they predecease one another. Are there provisions in place for that?
Another way to introduce the topic is to seize upon a natural opportunity such as the birth of a child or the death of a family member. Point out that a reputable attorney can make quick work of routine legal documents, and can save everyone headaches in the future if financial matters for beneficiaries are untangled sooner rather than later. If a member of a younger generation has chosen not to have children, suggest that he or she ensure that a favorite charity become a recipient.
Some parents might assume that simply paying for estate planning for their children or grandchildren might put their minds at ease, but this could unintentionally spark drama and upset if the offspring considers this an insult, a suggestion that he or she is not “adulting properly” or that you still consider them youngsters.
One way around this is to call all potential beneficiaries to a family meeting, stressing that that estate planning affects all generations, and that this is undertaken for everyone’s peace of mind and the smooth transition of property. Ensuring that younger generations are included in the decision-making process and consulted on major matters not only respects their autonomy and adulthood, it emphasizes that the estate planning is not directed with the intention of enforcing rules or the authority of the parents.
Including a qualified estate planning attorney whose credentials you share with younger Millennial generations can create a buffer between all parties. The legal professional can help to explain technical terms and answer questions. Clarify with the estate attorney which aspects of what documents are private, and what is public. This is also a good way to see to your needs as well as your children’s. If you’re not sure who would like which particular asset, such as a piece of real estate or personal item with sentimental value, now is a good time to raise the issue.
You may be surprised by the responses - for example, you may have assumed that the children anticipated splitting a vacation home, but only one wants to undertake its property taxes and constant upkeep. Or you may be surprised to learn that one child is keen on your baseball card collection while another has always wanted your wedding ring. Clear communication and detailed planning can make for smooth family relations where these matters are concerned.
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