Estate plans are about more than just distributing one’s assets. In addition to material possessions, memories, traditions, and values can also be passed as legacy and there are places for them in a comprehensive estate plan.
Legacy is created over time. It is a lifelong process, and the entire family can contribute to the family’s financial, intellectual, social, and spiritual wealth.
An estate plan can start with a family mission statement. Such a statement can give the grantor the opportunity to clearly outline and describe family principles and beliefs, setting the tone for the interpretation of the grantor’s actions.
An estate plan can also contain a family tree. In today’s world, tracing one’s ancestry is easy and accessible. Including the family tree, sometimes even with brief descriptions of known family members, in one’s estate planning portfolio not only allows the family members to “meet” their ancestors, but it also makes tracking the relatives easier in case they need to be contacted in order to notify them of their involvement with the estate.
Another way to introduce one’s relatives to their ancestors, or even to allow them to learn more about the grantor, is to record family history, stories, and traditions either through audio or video or even as written stories. Sometimes, the younger family members can be engaged in interaction with their parents and grandparents by “interviewing” them and then writing down the shared stories.
The grantor can also express in his or her estate plan what their wealth means to them, how it was accomplished, and how it can be cultivated. Passing on sound financial advice as well as providing ethical business guidance can be invaluable to heirs and beneficiaries.
A more formal way of blending financial and personal values in the estate plan is by creating trusts that contain funds specifically set aside for certain goals. An educational trust can assist a beneficiary with getting the education that could otherwise be outside of their reach. An incentive trust can encourage certain personal and professional paths by conditioning the receipt of the funds on achieving certain milestones. Finally, a charitable trust allows the grantor to cultivate the values important to them not only by supporting the causes close to their hearts, but also by leading by example and showing the next generations the value of charitable work.
Outside of the estate planning portfolio, and yet connected to it by the shared goal of creating family legacies for the next generations, are other ways of forming a legacy: creating physical or digital photo albums, keeping old traditions alive, making new traditions, visiting where your ancestors lived, and sharing family stories both verbally and in writing.
When thinking of a legacy, the first thing that comes to mind is the accumulated wealth, but legacy and estate planning is more than just legal documents distributing assets upon death. Memories, traditions, values, and dreams should be shared and remembered as well, so do not forget to include them in your estate plan to convey that which is important to you with future generations.