Published:December 6, 2021
-Wall Street Journal
Millennials are finally embracing one of the cornerstones of adulthood by writing their wills.
Lawyers and financial advisers are hearing more frequently from younger people who want to get their affairs in order should they die unexpectedly. Thirty-two percent of the adults under 35 who wrote a will said it was because of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a 2020 survey by online legal documents company LegalZoom. Caring.com, a senior-care referral service, said about 27% of 18- to 34-year-olds had a will in 2021, compared with 18% in 2019.
The largest factor driving the increase in millennials’ will writing is continued uncertainty of whether they or their family will get sick. Also driving interest, say lawyers and financial advisers, are events millennials haven’t experienced before, such as sharply rising inflation.
The general unease is prompting some to write wills and healthcare proxies to feel more in control. Estate-planning lawyers say they are busier than ever.
“Millennials are saying, ‘let me plan now as I’m not going to live forever,’ ” said Avi Kestenbaum, a partner at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone LLP.
Mr. Kestenbaum said millennial clients, especially ones with young children, are particularly concerned now about variants. He saw an uptick during the Delta wave and could see another push in the coming weeks if Omicron sparks a new wave of infections.
Before the pandemic, the need to create a will and other important documents such as healthcare proxies, largely wasn’t on the mind of Ryan Bayonnet and his wife, Bricey.
Mr. Bayonnet, a 29-year-old investment adviser, knew the importance of having these documents but it didn’t feel pressing given the couple had no children, he said. Talking about their death wasn’t exactly date-night conversation, either.
But when Covid-19 hit, the Akron, Ohio, couple was concerned, given Mrs. Bayonnet’s plan to become an emergency-room physician. Mrs. Bayonnet, now 28 and a fourth-year medical student, knew of people in her profession who were getting sick. The couple wrote their wills in September.
“It was a game-changer when my wife asked me if I’d want to be put on a ventilator if I needed one,” Mr. Bayonnet said.
Thirty-five percent of 18- to 34-year-olds were motivated by Covid-19 to engage in the estate-planning process, compared with 23% of 35-to-54-year-olds and 16% of those 55 and older, according to a survey by Caring.com. While older clients generally continued to keep lawyers busy, some have stayed out of attorneys’ offices because of heightened health concerns, say lawyers.
Just under half of Americans, 46%, have a will, with people 65 and older mostly likely to have one, according to a May survey by Gallup. The overall percentage of Americans who report having a will has been relatively stable since 1990, according to Gallup.
Writing a will seemed labor-intensive and costly, so Kimberly Onsager kept putting it off. The event manager in Boston didn’t have time to do the research about what to include and didn’t want to be taken advantage of by an attorney, she said.
Yet, Ms. Onsager, 38, felt vulnerable without a will. She is single and her parents live in Wisconsin. She wanted to make sure her end-of-life wishes would be followed if she were to get sick with Covid-19.
“I wanted to be safer than sorry,” she said.
In June, she created her will in roughly an hour for about $100 with online will-creation company Gentreo.
The cost of writing a will varies widely.
Do-it-yourself online options will generally be cheaper than hiring an attorney. Someone can create a will and healthcare directive online for $89 with legal-information publisher Nolo if they have a simple estate and don’t want additional documents. LegalZoom offers a last will and testament for $89.
The cost for a lawyer to create your estate plan is dependent on several factors: the number and type of documents; size of the estate and complexity of the family situation; the nature of assets; and the jurisdiction in which it is being prepared, said William Kirchick, president of the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils.
Mr. Kestenbaum, of Meltzer Lippe, said a simple will may cost around $1,500 but it could be significantly more if it is more complicated.
If you die without a will, state statutes determine how to distribute your assets under the supervision of a court. The process will be slower and potentially more costly for your survivors.
Not having a will can be a “catastrophe” in some situations, said Judith Flynn, an attorney in Quincy, Mass., and board member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. For instance, if beneficiaries with special needs inherit funds outright rather than in a supplemental needs trust, that inheritance can cause them to lose government benefits that may be essential to their quality of life, she said.
Financial adviser and lawyer Jeff Fishman has seen a rise in calls from millennials when someone who is in the public eye dies, especially if it is a young person who had an air of invincibility.
When his client Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died of a fentanyl overdose in 2019, several millennials contacted him looking for a referral to an attorney to write their will.
“The question we then often hear is: ‘What if this happens to me?’ ” Mr. Fishman said.
Some younger people are even encouraging their parents to create wills.
Kerry Deliz, a 38-year-old small-business financial consultant in Jersey City, N.J., wrote her will when she got married about five years ago.
She knew her parents, who are in their 60s, hadn’t yet written theirs. She reminded her mother, who formerly worked as a nursing-home nurse, to follow her own advice.
“My mom always told me, ‘The last gift you leave your family is a plan that is organized so they can properly grieve instead of hunting down paperwork and signatures,’ ” Ms. Deliz said.
Her parents, David Colby, 66, and Cheryl Deliz-Colby, 65, say they plan to finish their wills before Christmas.