Editors' pick: Originally published March 7.
On the check list of financial "things to do" for U.S. Millennials, creating a will in the event of their demise is low, ranked way down the charts between cleaning the gutters and scheduling a root canal.
The numbers back that up. According to a recent study by the Virtual Attorney, 92% of Americans under the age of 35 don't have a will.
Separate data from the Americans Bar Association show that 55% of all Americans pass on without a will or an estate plan in place. For that majority, the lack of a formal financial plan after they're gone usually means the distribution of their assets won't be decided by them, or their families, but likely by an estate court judge.
"Millennials haven't had that mortality 'ah-a' moment yet," notes Rick Kollauf, vice president and director, wealth services at BMO Private Bank. "Until the idea of mortality manifests itself in some way - from things like a close relative passing to a new life event like a baby's birth, will drafting isn't a priority. (But) when a mortality event such as these is experienced, it becomes a call to action. Until such an event is encountered many millennials just don't feel the need to plan."
Whether or not Millennials acknowledge the problem, they say mounting debt and rising financial obligations get in the way of their getting a will.
"Unfortunately, for a lot of them, they are not getting the proper advice that will set them up correctly for their futures, many of them have a 401(k) at work and consider that enough for now as they build their careers and lives," states Lisa Chastain, founder of Lisa Chastain Coaching, in Las Vegas. "Plus, they are not getting the financial advice they need. Many who are cash strapped are not under the impression that they have enough to be able to meet with a financial advisor so they are resorting to self-help and do it yourself financial materials."
That certainly is not a promising trend, but it shouldn't stop younger Americans, especially heads of household, from creating a will and addressing their estate planning needs.
"If you don't create your own will, the state decides where your property will go," notes Matthew Underwood, a Millennial and an attorney and estate planning specialist with Wilson Law Group, LLC, in Madison, Wis. "Chances are this default plan doesn't match what you would put in your own plan."
A will is especially important for young families, as it allows them to name guardians for minor children. "Plus remember, having an estate plan isn't just about death, it also about having a plan in place if you ever get disabled," Underwood says.
Just as important as having a will is having a health care power of attorney, he adds: "A health care power of attorney allows someone you name to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated."
Young, single people, may want to name their parents as your health care agents, Underwood advises. "Parents have no authority over their children once their children turn 18," he says. "Parents can't even contact the hospital to find out if you are okay or what is happening to you. And for married couples, you still need to name your spouse as your health care agent."
"If you don't have a health care power of attorney, your loved ones will need to fight it out in court if you ever become incapacitated," Underwood adds.
To get an actual will, Underwood encourages Millennials to talk to a local estate planning attorney. "Shop around to meet someone who you feel comfortable working with in your price range," he says. "Many estate planning attorneys offer no-cost consultations."
Also, note that state laws are unique and specific so it's important to talk to an attorney licensed in your state. "Wills must be signed and witnessed properly in order to be valid. I've seen cases where someone orders documents online, but the documents are not valid because they weren't executed properly," he says.
If it's a comfort level issue, Emily Boothroyd, a private wealth advisor with Price Financial Group LLC, in Wilton, Ct., says most law firms have younger associates who can handle straightforward estate plans for a value.
"Millennials can also look to LegalZoom for easy estate plans they can do online," she adds. "While you'd want to work with a professional for any questions or issues, or more complex topics, LegalZoom may be the perfect answer for someone looking for a very simple, effective will."
Younger Americans who avoid crafting a will are really rolling the dice, financially - for themselves and their families. Take care of business, and talk to an estate planning specialist as soon as possible.
To many Millennials, your family's future and well-being may depend on it.