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2022 Estate Planning Study: Millennial Estate Planning Continues in a Pandemic

Trust & Will shares insights from annual millennial estate planning study: how do millennials think about their legacies?

Millennials are now the largest living generation in the US, making up 22% of the population, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Brookings Institution. They’ve lived through several world-altering events that have shaped their shared generational experience: 9/11, the 2008 financial crash, and now, the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But despite all of this instability — or perhaps because of it — millennials have also become planners. They’re better than previous generations at putting money away for retirement and for their children’s college. Now, as they are buying homes, starting families, and caring for aging parents, they are planning further into the future.

Who are the millennials making end-of-life plans? What prompts them to create their Wills or Trusts in the first place? What are they prioritizing in their estate planning? Are they making different choices from the generation of their parents or grandparents? How do they feel about making end-of-life arrangements? 

Trust & Will analyzed data from nearly 23,000 individuals aged 25 to 44 who created estate planning documents with us in 2021 to help us answer those questions and offer a glimpse into how millennials think about their legacies. Additionally, Trust & Will surveyed 323 individuals aged 25 to 44 to ask them about the process of creating their Estate Plans. 

Download our full report for even more interesting statistics.

What kind of Estate Plans do they choose?

Most millennials in our sample (75%) opted to complete a Will-Based Estate Plan. This plan suffices most people’s needs, allowing them to distribute their assets, appoint guardians for their children and pets, and decide on their healthcare wishes and final arrangements. Nearly 19% of those studied established a Trust, which helps manage and distribute your assets during your lifetime and after death. Those with more complex estates tend to choose Trusts over Wills. 

Overall, our data shows that it’s not just the wealthiest millennials who are establishing their Estate Plans — in fact, far from it. Only 16% of the cohort had a net worth of over $1 million. 

What prompts millennials to start the estate planning process?

Why do people start planning what happens after they’re gone if they are as young as 30 or 40? 

In 2020, the pandemic prompted many people to think, “what if something happens?” and start establishing their Estate Plans. As we’ve gotten used to living in a pandemic, people’s reasoning have become more driven by their individual situations:

  • 34% cited having a child

  • 9% cited buying a home 

  • 8% said they had an income or net worth increase 

  • 11% were prompted by the death of someone in the family. 

Close to 22% of those surveyed are also members of the “sandwich generation,” so they are acting as caretakers to their young children and their aging parents. With all the extra responsibility, it comes as no surprise that they are thinking about what might happen down the line. 

End-of-Life Planning Is Not Just About the Nuclear Family

While having children is such an important factor for people who decide to work on their end-of-life plans, our data shows that it’s clear that millennials are flouting certain traditional family norms. Their closest circle might not necessarily include blood relatives: people are growing increasingly comfortable with the notion of a chosen family. Nearly one in four of those surveyed said they chose a non-family member as a Guardian for their kids or pets or to act as an Executor, Trustee, or Beneficiary. 

The pandemic and recent work-from-home policies also propelled many people to adopt pets. More than half of the millennials in the cohort have a pet, and an overwhelming 77% of pet owners designated someone to act as a pet guardian. 

What Else Do People Do with their Money?

Making sure their loved ones are taken care of is the key reason why people create their Estate Plans. But many also establish a bequest, leaving a portion of their estates, or specific dollar amounts to a charity. In the group of millennials that we studied, 9% chose to do so. There was no direct correlation with their net worth: people of all wealth levels decided to leave a bequest. Here are some of the top charities millennials chose to donate to: 

  • St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. 

  • Planned Parenthood 

  • Girl Scouts of the USA

  • The Trevor Project

Millennials and their End-of-Life Wishes 

Nearly 40% of the group completed their health documents in 2021. These documents help loved ones make crucial decisions in pivotal moments. Most millennials only want to receive care if benefits outweigh the burdens (57%). A smaller share, 35%, only want to receive care if it will improve their condition, and just 18% want to receive care in all cases. The majority (81%) of those who filled out their health documents elected to donate their organs.

An Estate Plan also provides the opportunity to reflect on how you’d like your life to be commemorated. These were some of the key insights: 

  • 37% of millennials opted for a memorial service, 

  • 22% chose a traditional funeral service. 

  • 48% chose to have their body cremated

  • 25% opted for a conventional burial

These numbers suggest that millennials are moving away from traditional end-of-life arrangements. This also applied to the songs they want for their memorial services, which really ran the gamut. Here were some of the top choices: 

  • Ava Maria

  • Hallelujah 

  • You Are My Sunshine

  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow

  • I was here by Beyoncé 

  • I look to You by Whitney Houston 

  • I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston or Dolly Parton

  • Three Little Birds by Bob Marley

  • Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin

  • Time to Say Goodbye by Andrea Bocelli 

  • My Way by Frank Sinatra

Click here to listen to our playlist on Spotify! 

The Emotions Associated with Estate Planning

Many people put off creating a Will or Trust, and the emotional toll of thinking about end-of-life plans can be a huge factor in this procrastination. When asked how they felt before creating their documents, the most common descriptors millennials used were “overwhelmed” and “anxious.” 

But after filling out their documents, a vast majority of those surveyed reported feeling better: “relieved” and “accomplished” were the two top emotions from the group.  

Millennials are all grown up. Data from nearly 23,000 individuals aged 25 to 44 who created their Estate Plans in 2021 shows that they are thinking ahead as their lives become more established. Major life events like having a child, buying a home, or experiencing a death in the family are the most common reasons why they complete a Will or Trust. Our data also revealed that millennials prioritize their own wishes and preferences over tradition, with nearly a quarter of them designating non-family members as Trustees, Guardians, or Beneficiaries of their estates, and many of them are moving away from conventional end-of-life arrangements like funerals and burials. 

Trust & Will will revisit this data each year to see how trends and behaviors among millennials continue to change over time.

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