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Vanina Wittenburg discusses the importance of wills for young adults in Today’s Wills & Probate

  • March 31, 2022
  • By Vanina Wittenburg, Senior Associate

This article was originally published in Today’s Wills & Probate and can be found here

The Next Generation: What a rise in will writing amongst young adults means for practitioners

Amongst young people, making a will has traditionally not been considered a particularly relevant aspect of the law. After all, the majority of young people have few, if any, significant assets to their name, and many see little point in having a will. However, times are changing rapidly, and the pandemic has led to an explosion in will-writing amongst those in their twenties and thirties. This age group is becoming increasingly aware that it is not only the older generation, or those with sizeable assets, who should have a will. As it becomes more common for young people to make wills, practitioners should be mindful of the different requirements of this age group compared to their parents or grandparents.

The data clearly shows that the younger generation are writing wills in droves – last year alone saw a 23% rise in Generation Z customers, per Farewill’s “The Year in Wills Report 2021”. This generation is six times more likely to pledge gifts to environmental charities, and even their funeral wishes were more “eco-conscious” than those of their elders. Practitioners must be mindful of changing social attitudes and their effects on wills.

The pandemic, a time of great uncertainty across the board, naturally saw a rise in will-writing across all age groups. The effects of the pandemic on older age groups are clear, and it is no surprise that an uptick in wills occurred. But Covid-19 has also affected the way that those under 25 perceive the need for wills. A survey commissioned by Legal & General found that more than 22% of respondents aged 16-24 strongly agreed that their perspectives on wills had changed due to the pandemic, and that 18% of young people who had updated their will did so after falling ill with Covid-19.

Young people should be advised on the importance of making a will wherever possible; however adjustments must be made to the advice they receive, taking into consideration their priorities. Younger generations with fewer significant financial and material assets should be reminded of the utility of a will beyond simply accounting for the distribution of assets. Although it is vital to make a will when acquiring valuable assets, such as property, or having children, wills serve a myriad other purposes. Practitioners should make younger clients aware that wills set out vital details such as the appointment of executors, who will care for children, specific instructions for funeral arrangements, and the distribution of sentimental items.

Young people may also be unaware of the lengthy and complicated process that happens if an individual dies intestate, and how the intestacy rules may lead to undesirable consequences. Younger clients should be advised on the oft-painful particulars of intestacy law, specifically the distribution of assets that may subject friends and family to further heartache at an already harrowing time. For example, those who are in long-term relationships but are not married need to be aware that under the intestacy rules, their partner will not be entitled to anything; we often have to explain to clients that there is no such thing as a “common law spouse” under English law. There may also be circumstances where the application of the intestacy rules means that assets go back a generation, to parents, which in most circumstances would not be ideal. Those with children should be reminded that if they have not appointed guardians, the courts may need to get involved, and whoever is appointed may not be who the deceased wanted.

People in their twenties and thirties often prefer to have a separate lawyer from their parents, however having a dedicated family lawyer is much more advantageous. A family lawyer allows for a much closer relationship between practitioner and family clients, ensuring specialised advice tailored to the needs of the family. Handling the wills of each generation will also ensure clarity across the board. This is predicated on families having an open and honest discussion about their affairs and the needs and wants of different generations, which is something we always discuss with our family clients at Hunters. Although it is not always a pleasant to think about, we recommend those conversations take place between parents and adult children early on, as one never knows what the future will bring. A dedicated family lawyer is also in the prime position of being aware of major developments and milestones, for instance the birth of a child, a marriage or the acquisition of property and other valuable assets, and can remind the client when wills should be updated, or for example when it may be sensible to make lasting powers of attorney (LPAs).

The availability of information thanks to the internet, combined with an increased awareness brought about by Covid-19 presents an opportunity for will-writing professionals to make strong connections with the next generation of clients. Practitioners must tailor their offerings to suit the requirements of a younger generation with different priorities – one eye-catching statistic recently showed that 15% of 16-24 year olds have used their wills to leave their assets to their pets. Will-writers, especially those with family clients, should inform the younger generation of the importance and necessity of having a will, even at a young age, depending on the circumstances. Those who may be used to dealing with older clients should be mindful of the needs of younger generations that may soon be coming through their office doors.

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