Let’s consider our inevitable demise
Updated: Jul 5, 2022
I am a financial advisor who works with queer millennials. What I do is basically map out what needs to be done in relation to their money. People get the need to save and invest for the future, but when I mention that they should also do an estate plan, it can be harder to express why it would be important to a young person. (Note: I am not an attorney and I don’t write wills. I can’t give advice without knowing more about your situation personally, so this is just an overview of some things I know about.)
It costs money to get these documents together. While you could technically write your own will from scratch, usually it’s going to mean paying a software a few hundred dollars or an estate lawyer thousands. When you are the youngest you’ll ever be, the benefit may not feel as pressing as the time it takes. Plus, it can be upsetting to think about death.
You can’t use your money where you’re going, so why bother? My answer is that an orderly estate is an act of care to others. Really, it’s about the experience of those who will carry your memory after you’re gone.
I encourage you to consider your inevitable demise for their sake.
When I got started in the business of financial planning, I worked with older adults. They’d come in, get a financial plan, we’d manage their money, then they would retire and eventually die. At that point it was our job to lead the family members through the paperwork, such as providing a death certificate to the custodian of the assets. (Again, we’re not estate attorneys and we weren’t going through probate, just implementing the changes on the investment side.) Before entering the field, I had never realized the sheer amount of work it takes to settle an estate, all in the midst of grieving a loss.
Making a financial plan itself is a contemplation of our vulnerability and death. We make a timeline with guesses about the major expenses in your life - now until your desired retirement and to the far end of how long you might live. For clients who think they want or have to work forever, I remind them that because aging is inevitable, working until they die may not be a choice. So it’s best to plan today.
So we use these dates of end of life and end of career to work backwards and come up with what kind of lifestyle and savings rate is needed depending on what you plan to do or not do with your investments. Understanding that your strength and time are not infinite is helpful to contextualize what you do now.
So I believe that we should all take the time to plan for our deaths. In addition to the spiritual and philosophical benefits, there are financial benefits for you and your loved ones. That’s especially true if your loved ones are not legally related to you. Alternatively, if you believe that inheritance is socially unjust, a will might direct your assets to movements rather than a default slate of blood relations.
Here are some things you’ll want to consider when approaching your estate plans.
What to Do:
Dealing with your stuff
Part of creating a will is giving away your worldly possessions. A last will and testament gives directions for who should get what. Also, it gives instructions for what was once your most important possession: your body. That includes burial and organ donation. Make sure to talk to your loved ones about this so they know what to expect.
If you died today, what would you leave behind? I’m guessing for many, there are closets full of disorganized stuff. Maybe some boxes of things that no longer have meaning or use. It’s a service to the community to get your shit in order. It takes a long time to clear out an apartment, and it’s worse when it’s a mess.
How about your digital assets? Many apps set successor owners so that your accounts can be managed when you die. You can also keep a note in your password manager with instructions and documents. Tell the successors what you’ve arranged and where to find it.
Medical wishes & POA
When we talk about estate planning, we are also referring to medical plans. Even if you are married, your spouse would have to petition a judge to act on your behalf if you are incapacitated without a springing medical power of attorney. A financial power of attorney assigns those abilities to your representative. If you can’t think of someone who you’d trust with your health, maybe it’s time to invest more in your relationships. Maybe a transit worker with a crush on you will pretend to be your fiancé and want to take care of you—but there will be legal limitations without a power of attorney!
You also want to plan for your wishes for extreme measures to be taken to save or sustain life. Young people have a much better chance of survival after extraordinary measures are taken, so you may not want to curtail that, but it’s always helpful for the people who act on your behalf to know your opinion so they don’t have to guess.
Okay, let’s talk about the money. Your will stipulates who you want it to go to. You’ll have to elect someone who’s going to take care of the whole process—called an executor or personal representative.
The legal process of approving the will in front of a judge is called probate. Probate can take a long time. That’s why many people choose to pass assets outside of probate through trusts and beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are very easy to set. In retirement accounts you generally log in and simply make sure they’re filled out and updated. If they go a long time without being revisited, the old beneficiary may now be a sworn enemy. Check on that. You can add beneficiaries to taxable investments, property, and bank accounts too, it’s just a little more work.
Caring for dependents
The estate planning process sees that your wishes are followed when you’re not conscious or alive to see it through. But mainly, it aims to reduce doubt and uncertainty for your loved ones. This is especially relevant when your loved ones aren’t family according to your state. And planning in advance gives you time to check on the needs of those who rely on your care and financial support. If you have children or pets, you can use these documents to choose successor guardians or set aside assets for them. If your dependents rely on your income, life insurance may be a part of your estate planning.
Actually Doing It
The hardest part of any of this is actually doing it. Part of my job with ongoing clients after the initial deep-dive of a financial plan is meeting quarterly to discuss finances. I use these quarterly meetings to remind my beloved clients again and again to do certain such tasks, like making a will.
But then once it’s made, it needs to be notarized! In New York, you have to bring two witnesses who are not named in the will to the notary and sign. This IRL errand can hold up my clients for YEARS. Make a plan for how you’ll notarize. Invite two friends to a special weekday breakfast followed by a quick trip to the notary public. True story: Katie and my estate-documents were notarized by our friend at a birthday party. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, amirite?
When I’m gone, I can’t help with any of the heartbreaking work of bringing documents to the court. I’m can’t pitch in while you’re boxing up my lifelong possessions. But I know that I won’t have left my loved ones with a mess to clean up and no direction on my true wishes.
You’ll probably live 50 more years. But go on and live every day like it’s the last—and take care of your estate planning today :)