Giving the gift of legacy
November 11, 2011
As we enter the holiday season, this is an excellent time to think about what you really want to give your kids, family, and friends. I do not mean what you want to give them at Christmas, but rather what is the truly valuable thing you want to impart to them? When you are no longer here, what is the most important thing you want them to have learned from you?
I would call this your “legacy.” A legacy can incorporate many facets. It most often means that you want your family and friends to remember you for the values you hold dear. Things like honestly, hard work, religious beliefs, or financial stewardship.
A comprehensive estate plan can help pass along these values to your heirs. A well-rounded estate plan is more than just a will or trust. Instead, it often includes what you might consider “instructions” on what is important to you in managing your affairs. Instructions like providing for the needs of your spouse or children. Instructions like how to provide a home for your spouse or minor children, if you have passed on. These are often formalized in your estate documents, and may seem dull to you now. However, as someone who regularly counsels the family after the passing of a loved one, these instructions are often precious last words from mom or dad.
Additionally, when I prepare an estate plan for a client, I recommend that the client write a personal note, or record a video, to their loved ones. I would really recommend hand writing the letter. This is not your last will, but rather a personal message to your friend or family member. These letters are precious to your family. Indeed, my grandfather – who died 15 years before I was born – hand wrote letters to his oldest grandchild before he died. He wrote a series of letters on the issues he felt most important: issues of faith, how to choose a spouse, and the importance of obtaining an education. These are precious letters to all of us, even though he died before most of us were born. They have been copied and passed down to two generations now.
These letters were in addition to his comprehensive trust-based estate plan, which provided for the needs of my grandmother for 30 years after his death (and then gave a tidy sum to my mother and her sisters).
That’s a real legacy. He provided for his family on all levels. As you approach the holiday season, consider how you might leave a legacy to your family and friends. I challenge you, if nothing else, to hand write a letter to each of your children about what is most meaningful to you.