“Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?”: Estate Planning for Millenials

“Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?” asks New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s aging parents, whose hesitance to discuss End of Life issues Chast captures in her upcoming graphic memoir. They are not alone: No one wants to talk about a subject that inspires either boredom (What will happen with our Social Security checks?) or terror (Who will raise the kids?) or some toxic combination of both (In what exurb will our bodies be interred to spend eternity alongside cars roaring by?)

The story of Mickey Rooney, who shuffled off this mortal coil on Sunday, is a good reminder to face down boredom and terror alike in an effort to keep one’s affairs in order. Otherwise your family members might turn into grave-robbing lunatics, claiming everything, including your corpse — especially perhaps if that is all you have to leave, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

Rooney’s trust didn’t have a dime. He owed back taxes to the IRS and the state Franchise Tax Board. He was estranged from most of his nine children and separated from his wife. He had disinherited everyone except one stepson, according to a will filed along with court papers that showed assets of just $18,000. …

After his death, his wife, Jan Chamberlin, and her son, Christopher Aber, contacted Forest Lawn and tried to move Rooney’s body against his expressed wishes, Augustine alleged in court papers filed Tuesday morning. Charlene Rooney said she and Mark received a call from Forest Lawn about the attempt a few hours after Rooney’s passing.

“Mickey was not even gone for a few hours, he had just left here on a gurney, and this ugliness started,” she said.

Rooney updated his will as recently as March 11th but missed the opportunity to include certain crucial details. Granted, he had a lot to remember. The actor had more wives than Henry VIII.

He shares the laurel of Most Married Hollywood Star with four women who each also made it to the altar eight times: Lana Turner, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elizabeth Taylor, and Georgia Holt. Still, ordinary people have Hollywood royalty beat when it comes to multiple marriages: “Linda Wolfe, 68, who first wed at 16, is now a grandmother with 23 ex-husbands, which sets the world record for the Most Married Woman.”

Even those of us without harems of exes can benefit from making our wishes known, because 93 year olds are not the only ones who stumble off the cliff into infinity. Heiress and wild child turned suburban mom Peaches Geldof died this week of unknown causes at the unripe age of 25. If Death can take down the rich, young, and beautiful, it can take any of us. Are we prepared? I mean, financially?

Medill Money Mavens posted a feature in January that covers some of the basics of why Millennials should care about estate planning and how we should go about it. It raises some key points, such as how to handle both public and private debt, and the issue of digital assets, like what happens to your Facebook albums. Save money by taking care of certain issues now, it advises, since “probate can be expensive. If you don’t have an estate, or an asset isn’t part of your estate, the court decides how to distribute the estate. This can be lengthy, public and very expensive.”

My husband is a lawyer and we have an 18-month-old. Of course we should wills, but do we? Not yet. Perhaps taking steps towards that will be my One Thing. Tune in next week when I will report on my progress.

Ester Bloom lives in Brooklyn.

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