Ask most adults in their twenties and thirties if they've started planning or saving for retirement, and you'll get a blank stare. So it's no surprise that many young people haven't started planning for their own deaths, either.
Frank Jarome, 29, and his wife, Kristin, 28, of Niles, are like most other young people. They don't have a will. "Not yet," said Kristin. "We're going to make a will," she added, explaining that she feels that they don't own enough to worry about a will yet. The Jaromes have a 3-year-old son, and although they know who they would name as his guardian in the event of their deaths, the fact that they don't have a will means it's not official.
"We haven't really discussed it at length, but it's something we have agreed on," said Kristin Jarome.
Kristin Jarome, however, does have a living will and understands how it differs from a will. Her living will states that she does not wish to be kept alive if she has no brain activity. It also contains a do not resuscitate order and a request for comfort care only. Frank Jarome, on the other hand, does not have a living will. "I've never really thought about it," he said. However, it's never too soon to start thinking about wills and living wills.
Wills and living wills sound similar, and many people get them confused, but they are two different directives. A will is a written, legal document, drawn up by an attorney, that gives direction as to who gets what when the owner of the will dies, explained Rick Staszak, a registered financial consultant and certified estate planner with Financial Network Investment Corporation. Staszak is based out of Pittsburgh and has regional offices in northeast Ohio.
"Statutes of every state provide that every person of sound mind and at least 18 years of age may make a will," Staszak explained. A will also allows parents to name a guardian for their children that are younger than 18. "If there is no will, it's up to the discretion of the court to distribute the assets - which may not be fair."
When to update your will, trust and living will:
- Change in marital status
- Birth of a child
- Move to a different state
- Change in your assets, such as buying a house or inheriting money
- If you change your mind about who should get what or who should be your executor or have power of attorney
- If you decide to leave money to a charitable cause
- Change in probate or tax laws
However, having a will doesn't necessarily solve all these problems, Staszak said, explaining that even with a will, the owner's estate still goes to court, which can cost 5 percent of the total assets or more, on top of the costs of a funeral. For people with more assets - $100,000 or more in total assets - Staszak recommends a trust. A trust allows the beneficiaries to avoid probate entirely, saving time and money.
If wills and trusts seem like a complicated and serious matter, living wills are even more so. They seem simple enough at first: "A living will is the expression of your desires while you are competent and able to express your desires regarding end-of-life care," explained Dr. Benjamin Hayek, a physician with Primary Healthcare Associates in Youngstown. A living will involves difficult decisions such as organ donation, whether life should be prolonged when someone is incapacitated or comatose, and quality of life.
Hayek said that most young people don't have living wills but should. "Life being what it is, the sooner the better," said Hayek, specifying that young people should have a living will as soon as they come of age and begin making their own decisions. Hayek also recommends that people set up a power of attorney for health care along with a living will. A power of attorney for health care grants someone the power to make decisions on behalf of another person who is unable to make them.
Having a living will affects more than just you; it affects all of your loved ones should you be in a situation where you can't make your own health care decisions.
"When there's no living will, we run into a problem," Hayek said.
He explained there are all kinds of issues as to who makes the decisions. Complications arise, for example, when a couple lives together but is not married, or when a married couple separates but has not finalized the divorce.
Family members may also disagree on what steps should be taken. Usually, health care providers will get the family together to try to arrive at a consensus, but things don't always go smoothly.
Many young people feel that they don't own enough to worry about a will or a trust, but Staszak points out that they probably have more assets than they realize. For people who live in an apartment, significant assets usually include cars and savings. For those who own a home, they still own the home, even if it's not paid off yet. They own the equity.
"Would you want to see your home given to anybody?" Staszak asked.
Another important point that Staszak makes is for young people to do a will check-up after any major life event. Staszak uses divorce as an example. In most states, he explained, divorce will not nullify a will, but it does nullify parts of the will favoring the former spouse, such as the former spouse being named executor of the will. At this point, the will would need to be revised. Staszak also points out that young people need to make sure their parents have a will or trust and that it's updated.
"Trust me, it happens," Hayek said. "It's a touchy medical, legal, and ethical issue."
He said that different family members may have different motives for their decisions, including life insurance, the estate, support issues and other vested interests. In addition to the emotional aspect of a situation like this, it can also be costly.
Many of these problems can be avoided with a living will, and living wills aren't even difficult to set up. Hayek pointed out that for Ohioans, everything you need to set one up is available online. While you don't need a lawyer, Hayek does recommend that you have someone capable look over the living will, such as a lawyer, social worker or a health care provider. He also suggests that you become familiar with the medical terminology commonly used in a living will and be as specific as possible as to your wishes.
"There are different states you can be in," said Hayek.
Finally, it's a good idea to discuss your wishes with the person designated with power of attorney for health care so that your wishes are clear and can be carried out with minimal problems.
Death or serious illness is always difficult to deal with. Why make it harder by leaving the burden of difficult decisions on others?