Originally published in WealthCounsel Newsletter July 2013
The boomers are coming! That’s the gist of the many reports and news stories that have been published in the last few years. It seems that every week there are at least a few new stories which predict the great changes that are coming as 5 million boomers turn 65 every year for the next 15 years. Many of the changes predicted are ones that will affect the economy, social structure, residential housing, recreational activities and delivery of health care services of a larger, older population. There’s not much doubt that boomers have different expectations about their “golden years” than their parents did.
This article summarizes some of the important changes and shifts that have taken place or will take place and how these changes will affect the estate planning process.
Why Do So Few Baby Boomers Have Estate Plans?
According to recent studies, most Americans have not completed even basic estate planning. A 2010 survey conducted by Forbes showed that only 48% of those 65 and older said they even had basic documents such as a financial power in place authorizing someone to make financial decisions for them if they were incapacitated and less than 60% had healthcare powers in place.
The survey also explored the reasons so many Americans lack estate planning documents. Some respondent blamed the economy with 44% of those without any documents saying the reason was because they were more focused on “essentials” like paying bills and buying groceries. Significantly, however, misconceptions that estate planning is mainly for the wealthy and about death and dying were a major contributing factor to the failure to plan.
The answers to the survey questions revealed that many people were simply not aware of what could happen to them during their lives without planning in place. They were not thinking of estate planning as having the life planning component that would protect them while they were alive. In the Forbes study, 19% of those with no documents said the reason they don’t have these documents is the lack of sufficient assets to warrant estate planning. As estate planners, we know that what our clients want first and foremost is to be secure and have their lifestyle protected into the future. No matter how small or large their estate is, all clients share the desire and need to protect their quality of life and their lifestyle as their number one goal. In fact, clients who have fewer assets may have a greater need for careful life planning because they are less able to absorb the costs incurred by the lack of planning.
How Will Changes in Society Impact Estate Planning?
The major changes in our society that have taken place over the last several decades will inevitably have a major impact on the estate planning process. These changes include many more divorces, adult children who need financial help, families scattered all across the country or the world, huge changes in family structure, along with much longer life spans.
Baby boomers are very concerned about how these huge changes in our society will impact their own lives and lifestyle, especially as they grow older. The greatest worry that baby boomers have is the increased likelihood of experiencing an illness that requires expensive long term care.
Over the last two decades, many more estate planning attorneys have been including and often emphasizing the lifetime part of the estate planning process. WealthCounsel attorneys are in the forefront of those who are committed to updating and redefining estate planning so that it meets the needs of our clients in the twenty-first century.
Yet historically and even still today, most people still think about estate planning as being about planning for death and taxes. Most often, it’s only after an illness strikes or the handwriting is on the wall, that people look to an attorney to help them with protecting their assets. Relatively few people have comprehensive life and estate planning that is personalized and holistic and that focuses on client desires, as well as their needs.
What Do Baby Boomers Want?
What do all of these changes mean for estate planning attorneys? I think that the changes in outlook, focus and values that boomers present as a group will very likely transform the way people view estate planning. This article focuses on the estate planning options forward-looking estate planning attorneys can offer to baby boomers that are tailored to boomers’ specific needs. If we can offer holistic solutions to what boomers worry about the most, life and estate planning will be redefined and seen as necessary and more relevant in the lives of baby boomers.
Surveys of baby boomers have revealed certain generational characteristics that are different than their parents. As a whole, boomers are optimistic, proactive and often tend to look at the future through rose colored glasses. Most boomers want to continue to “make a difference in the world” and place a high value on staying engaged and need to feel they can contribute and remain relevant.
Boomers also tend to be skeptical and often feel the need to do their own independent research. However, they do value advice from someone they trust as an unbiased professional expert.
What do baby boomers want? They want a plan that is comprehensive and coordinated to include protection of their future security and lifestyle. They want their estate plan to minimize costs and taxes and are very interested in passing on their very best legacy to those that they love and care about.
Concern about the enormous cost of long term care has increased baby boomers’ awareness about the importance of planning ahead for that possibility. Moreover, baby boomers tend to be more proactive than their parents and generally understand that planning ahead of time is essential in order to preserve assets.
Boomer Law - The Merger of Estate Planning and Elder Law
Most often estate planning and elder law are seen as very separate and distinct practice areas. Because of boomers’ desire to protect their future lifestyle and the need for planning in advance, the areas of estate planning, lifetime disability planning and certain elder law asset protection strategies will soon become completely integrated in the public’s mind.Since boomers do not like to think of themselves as “elderly” or “seniors,” we may want think of this holistic approach as “boomer law.”
The desire of baby boomers to feel confident that their planning includes security for them and options for the future in case of long term care illness means that a discussion of planning options for the possibility of needing long term care is or will become part of every life and estate planning process for most of our baby boomer clients.
Like everyone else, baby boomers place a very high value on keeping control over their lives but they also recognize that spending most of their life savings on long term care is not control either. The good news is that with proactive planning we can create plans that include flexibility and a certain degree of control. Not all baby boomer clients will choose to either include a long term care asset protection component to their current planning, or purchase long term care insurance but most boomers want to understand their options.
Estate planning attorneys with baby boomers clients will need to know how to advise these clients on planning in advance to guard against the threat of long term care costs and should understand at least the basics of elder law planning.
What can estate planning attorneys do to attract and serve baby boomer clients?
- Boomers appreciate thorough discussions about their personal preferences for their lifestyle in the event of incapacity and documents that express those choices.
- We can discuss the options that provide flexibility in their life and estate plans.
- We can give them an overview of what would happen if there was a need for long term care in the future, and discuss the available options to pay for care.
- We can include a discussion of long term care asset protection as part of the initial planning meetings.
- Baby boomers want to be informed and “in the know” and will appreciate being kept informed of asset protection, tax and legal changes. This means that having a process for review and updating will more important than ever.
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