I was born at the tail end of the baby boomer generation – which is said to include all those born between 1946 and 1964. We’ve been a royal pain-in-the-rear generation – first swelling the ranks of classrooms causing the construction of new schools, and then making college admissions hyper-competitive, afterwards increasing the demand for first home purchases and so on.
We even created a baby-boomlet of our own progeny in the 1980s and 1990s.
Now the oldest baby boomers are beginning to retire – while most remain in the prime of our working careers. We’re expected to put a strain on the Social Security and Medicare programs, and many haven’t saved enough for retirement. There are a number of reasons for that, from overconsumption to stock market and housing crashes to believing the mirage of never-ending youth.
And that last item – the mirage of never-ending youth – is also what traps those who haven’t looked at their estate plan in quite some time. When baby boomers arrive at my office, they generally produce existing wills that call for guardianships for their children (who are now grown adults themselves) and name long-deceased parents as executors and trustees.
Which brings me to today’s topic – the top five reasons that baby boomers need to update their estate plans.
- Relationships Change – Just as I mentioned above, your old wills, trusts and power of attorney documents might name people to serve in posts such as personal representative, trustee and health care surrogate who you may have lost touch with or who are no longer close to us. While attorneys in northern jurisdictions often name themselves as trustee of their clients’ trusts, you may now be a Florida resident or that attorney may have long since retired. It’s time to take a fresh look at who you have named to conduct your affairs for you in the event of your disability or death. Also, we may now be in a different relationship or marriage than we found ourselves in when we first prepared our estate plan. Blended families typical of second marriages require a thoughtful, detailed plan to prevent problems between a surviving spouse and step-relations;
- Children Grow Up – Your will drawn twenty years or more ago may have contemplated making distributions for your young children that are now fully grown with kids of their own. Your adult children may also be some of the best candidates to serve as your personal representative under you will or as your trustee under your trust. You may also want to protect the inheritance you leave your grown children from adult issues such as divorce or lawsuits;
- Your Health – While none of us like to admit it, age usually presents more health issues to deal with. You want to make sure that your health care surrogate documents are up to date, as well as your living will that designates what you want to have happen should you end up on life support with no hope of recovery. None of us wants to be the next Terri Schiavo, so it is important that your health care documents are up to date with today’s law and with your intent;
- Your Stuff – It’s probably time to review your assets and how your estate plan provides for you, in the event of your disability, and your loved ones after your death. In our youth our main assets probably consisted of a home, term life insurance and maybe a few investments. As we enter middle-age we may no longer have term life insurance (instead we may have whole or universal life policies that contain cash value), and we may have larger investment accounts as well as IRA and 401(k) accounts. As the types and amounts of assets that we own changes, it is important that our estate plan change with them. An estate plan built around a young family with term life insurance should look drastically different than an estate plan for someone in the prime of their working career or who is nearing retirement;
- Your Legacy – Finally, many of us like to consider what kind of legacy we leave behind. It might include a charitable legacy with institutions or causes near and dear to our hearts, or it might mean how we want our progeny to carry on with the wealth that we’ve accumulated. Perhaps we’re concerned that we’ll take away the incentive to lead a productive life, or we may want our wealth to be used for certain activities we find beneficial – such as education or health care.
There’s a lot to consider. Make it a priority to dust off the will or trust that you’ve neglected for so long, and use these five points to write down what concerns you the most about your own planning. Then take that to your attorney to provide a framework for your discussions and plans.