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While more millennials have started to focus on estate planning due to the unsettling nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, those actual plans may look quite different from the wills of older generations.

That’s because for millennials, digital assets are top, according to U.S. online estate planning firm Trust & Will’s recent study of 20,000 millennials between the ages of 25 and 40 who completed estate plans in 2020. In fact, all of the millennials surveyed named a digital executor to manage their digital assets, such as online accounts and social media pages.

Although Victor Godinho, managing partner at Kismet Wealth Group Corp. in Toronto, hasn’t heard his millennial clients refer to digital executors specifically, he says that they definitely pick an executor who is savvy in navigating the digital landscape. Some of his clients are starting to store their important documents in a digital vault and are making plans to provide their executors with access via digital codes.

Other clients have some investments in cryptocurrencies and Mr. Godinho has spent time discussing password security and ascertaining if their executors know where to find and access the investments.

Shannon Tatlock, associate advisor with the Kevin R. Williams Financial Services Inc. team at Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada in Moncton, has noticed that millennials are more aware of all their digital assets. That even includes items like their frequent flyer or store rewards cards, for which accumulated points can translate into lots of money.

“They want to ensure their accumulated points aren’t forgotten and that a beneficiary has access to them,” she says.

In terms of beneficiaries, the Trust & Will study found millennials weren’t likely to have simplified wills, in which all assets were left to one person such as a spouse, parent, or sibling. On average, millennials listed nine beneficiaries in their estate plans.

That doesn’t surprise Taylor Hewson, a certified financial planner and associate portfolio manager with the TCM Financial Studio team at Peak Securities Inc. in Regina.

Mr. Hewson, who is a millennial, points to his generation taking longer to get established with stable employment, buying a home, getting married, and/or starting a family.

“We come to the table with predetermined ideas about money, what we want in our financial life and we’ve built up some assets before even coming into a relationship,” he says. “So, it’s not automatic that the spouse will be the beneficiary to everything.”

Ms. Tatlock has clients who focused more on friends as beneficiaries instead of family. For example, there’s one client who wants to leave money to a close friend who has always struggled financially.

Naming a guardian for children is important to millennial parents – and often the driver to draft a will in the first place, the Trust & Will study found. However, arrangements for pets are close behind as 78 per cent of millennial pet owners assigned a guardian for their furry companions.

“Millennials are more concerned about the welfare of their pets than previous generations and want a plan for them, too,” Ms. Tatlock says. In fact, she can relate personally as her friend has bequeathed a cat to her along with some money for pet expenses.

Laroux Peoples, a wills and estates lawyer in Toronto, says she always brings up pets when drafting wills, and notices that millennial clients really respond favourably and are motivated to find the right guardian.

“They are pleasantly surprised I’ve mentioned it,” she says. “They’ll determine who within the family or neighbourhood would be appropriate. After I draft the pet clause, I recommend including a one-time payment [to the guardian] to say thank you and offset the costs of taking care of the pet.”

Finally, millennials also value giving back to charities. But what’s different, according to the study, is some millennials shy away from well-known registered charities and instead turn their support toward smaller organizations – notably ones focused on the environment and social justice.

Mr. Godinho sees his millennial clients supporting many grassroots charities.

“They’re thinking about where they can best use their money and resources to effect change,” he says. “They want to provide resources to those groups because they’re doing good work.”

Although these sorts of charities – including crowdfunding campaigns – don’t qualify for a tax receipt, millennials aren’t bothered by that.

“I find the tax benefit has gone down on the totem pole of importance with them,” he says. “We advise our clients about it, but it’s just not a driving force for millennials. They just want to give to the causes that are important to them.”