While the basics of estate planning have been the same for centuries, changing realities suggest the need to broaden traditional approaches. 

A new report released by the BMO Retirement Institute, “Estate planning in the 21st century: New considerations in a changing society,” explores three areas that are gaining attention. These are the: 1) embracing of new technologies and accumulation of online property among Boomers, which have created both financial and non-financial digital assets; 2) growing need to ensure the continuity of care for our elderly parents, relatives and friends; and 3) changing status of pets in our lives.

To keep up with these new realities, estate planning needs to evolve. Individuals and their advisors should consider broadening discussions to include these emerging issues.

Digital Assets

First, estate planning must take the accumulation of digital assets into consideration. Recent studies show that boomers have embraced technology and gone online in ever-increasing numbers. As a result, they have more and more possessions that exist only in the wired world, such as e-mail accounts, online photos and online financial records.

Estate planners need to take online activity into account to avoid leaving a daunting digital mess for our clients’ loved ones. It’s important to think actively and openly about including digital assets as part of an estate plan, including tracking down online accounts and passwords. Whether addressed formally, through special provisions in your clients’ estate planning documents, or less formally, by having your client leave instructions with a trusted family member or friend, the importance of dealing with a digital legacy is growing.

Elder Care

A second emerging estate planning issue is elder care. We’re living longer and having fewer children, and as the boomer generation enters retirement, this trend is accelerating. Boomers ages 41 to 59 are more likely today to have a living parent than ever before. Currently, 71 percent of boomers have at least one living parent, while in 1989, just 60 percent of people in that age bracket did.As life expectancies rise and our clients’ older relatives grow older still, so do the chances of a client becoming a caregiver to an elderly relative.

The so-called “sandwich generation” has unique issues as well. They have financial obligations as supporters of their children’s needs, such as post-secondary education, and often also as caregivers to their elders.

The cumulative impact of all these responsibilities on the lives of caregivers should cause many to reconsider more traditional estate planning. In particular, relatives under boomers’ care may be at risk of losing quality long-term care in the event of unforeseen incapacity or death. Consequently, it’s important for caregivers to consider including these older parents or relatives when planning their estate.

While it’s important that a client’s plans include older generations, it’s equally important for clients to have a discussion with parents or relatives to ensure that they’ve taken the necessary steps to provide for themselves. Older relatives need to be engaged in such a discussion while they’re still able to make decisions. Incapacity may strike when least expected, and it may be too late for older relatives to execute a legal document concerning their own care. This can simply be a frank discussion about their financial preparedness should their health fail and they require long-term care. Power of attorney documentscan appoint someone to manage the older relative’s finances in the event of incapacity and to make decisions about their personal health or medical care needs if they are no longer able to do so.

Pets

A third emerging estate-planning issue is related to our clients’ pets. Pet lovers will often go to extreme lengths to care for their furry friends. Studies suggest that, to most pet owners, having a pet isn’t considered a discretionary expenditure. More than half the population owns pets; and if the majority consider the pet a member of the family, it stands to reason that pet owners might want to consider including their pets in their estate plan.

Further, as life expectancies increase, the incidence of pet ownership is likely to continue to gain importance. Numerous studies have shown that pets are good for our health and emotional well-being; the unconditional love of a pet combats both loneliness and depression in people of all ages, particularly in the elderly.  Pets also promote a stable routine in aging owners, and seniors with pets visit the doctor less frequently than those without.

But, only one-third of pet owners make some kind of provision for their pet in their estate plans. Many assume that a friend or family member will take care of their pet—an assumption that may not come true and can lead to the pet ending up at a local animal shelter. 

When considering how to help a client provide for a pet in an estate plan, one option is to leave a reasonable monetary legacy to a caregiver who could use the funds to care for the pet. Making this provision and providing financial assistance to offset the rising costs of pet ownership can help minimize the risk of the pet being abandoned or given up to an animal shelter. In this regard, your client should consider the appropriate and reasonable amount of money to assist the chosen pet caregiver with the costs associated with pet ownership.

Common Thread

Among the three emerging issues described above, the one common thread is their absence from most estate plans. Now more than ever, estate planners should work with clients to ensure that they include their digital assets, aging parents and other relatives and their pets in their estate planning considerations. These are excellent reasons why individuals should review their estate plans regularly to ensure they are current, up-to-date and cover all bases.

 

To read the full report and other reports by the BMO Retirement Institute, please visit www.bmo.com/retirementinstitute.