Americans are living longer. Yet, it was pointed out during one session at the American Society on Aging’s 2019 conference in New Orleans that some 56% of Americans don’t have a will. If you are among those who haven’t put together a basic estate plan, get it done in 2019. Your heirs and close circle of relatives and friends will thank you.

The basic list isn’t particularly daunting. First, get a will by hiring a lawyer or using one of the online services, such as Nolo’s online will. A will is the foundation for getting your affairs in order. Second, put together a health care directive. (The Minnesota Board on Aging offers health care directive forms online, including the University of Minnesota Extension Minnesota Health Care Directive Planning Toolkit.) Third, establish durable power of attorney. Fourth, decide where you want to be buried or cremated (a decision that will come as a huge relief to family).

Fifth, talk to your family, relatives and close friends about your late-life goals and desires. Conversation lets everyone understand better your values and thinking. An estate plan makes it easier on your family and close circle to deal with any difficult decisions. You can always update and modify your decisions.

The desire to leave at least some money to our heirs is strong. But there has been a fascinating shift in how that is accomplished. Rather than waiting for death to pass on assets, more elders are deciding to “give while living.” For instance, grandparents help fund their grandchildren’s education expenses. Nearly two-thirds of people 50 years and older are providing financial support to family members, according to a survey by the financial services firm Merrill Lynch and demographic consulting firm Age Wave.

I would like to expand the idea of “giving while living.” Since you are already thinking about your life while devising an estate plan, realize that far more valuable than your money and assets is your accumulated experience, knowledge and skills. How can you tap into your experience in late life to help others succeed? Perhaps your experience and judgment can help family members figure out how to have both purpose and a paycheck. Maybe you can mentor those in your community in areas where you have some expertise.

The wish to leave our heirs with a legacy is powerful. Don’t leave them without an estate plan. And remember that giving of our experience can make a huge difference to the people around us.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for “Marketplace” and a commentator for Minnesota Public Radio.