Your estate plan is really your last conversation with your family and friends, isn’t it? As such, it can reverberate for decades.
So, what can you do to make it an expression of love rather than pain?
The first expression of love is planning. When you establish an estate plan, friends and relatives can focus on their grief over your death without the burden of sorting through the mess that you leave behind when there is no planning.
One benefit of putting an estate plan together is that the process tends to trigger reflection. By thinking about your family’s future without you, you’re more likely to take prudent steps now to position your family financially as well as possible for the time when you are can no longer provide for them. That’s love, too.
The second expression of love is the thoughtful transfer of assets. The amount of money and property that you leave to your heirs is not as important as how the gift is conveyed to them. Do they understand that you love them? Do they understand why you’ve made the choices that you’ve made?
Despite the legalese of estate planning documents, how the bequest is made is your conversation with your heirs. You can also discuss your estate plan reasoning with your heirs, or you can write a letter to accompany your estate plan.
The New York Times carried a story on Dec. 13, 2012 about a woman still hurting more than 40 years after the death of the legendary Louis Armstrong because he did not recognize her existence as his daughter in his Will. She is now auctioning some letters that Armstrong wrote to her mother to show the world what her family had kept secret for many years – that she was his daughter.
This is but one example of how deeply what is said or not said in a Will or Trust can cut, and that wound may never heal.
A third expression of love is your authorship of a legacy document. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want to say that you perhaps didn’t say often enough or clearly enough while alive? What family stories should be shared and preserved? Are there key life lessons to pass along?
A legacy document can encompass many things, and can be fine-tuned and added to over time.
The estate plan is very important for a generation or two, and the legacy document may be appreciated for many generations. When someone dies, some information is lost forever if it isn’t written down – leaving a family legacy that lacks the richness of its potential.
The key is to start your estate plan and legacy document now. It takes time to prepare them. And, as the old saying goes, we never know what tomorrow will bring.
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