“Does your estate plan have a gaping hole? Forget your wealth and possessions: Your beliefs, values and wisdom could be the most treasured assets you pass down to the ones you love.”
That’s the challenging premise behind this article that was published recently on the Kiplinger financial website. Written by legacy planner Laura Roser, the article makes the important point that estate planning too often concentrates entirely on tangible items – on our stuff, in other words – and overlooks extremely important aspects of our legacy that reveal who we truly are as individuals. “Oftentimes, people don’t think about the intangibles they should pass on to their heirs,” says Roser. “Estate planning is so wrapped up in transferring financial assets that this becomes the focus. Once your financial team hands you your estate plan, you think you’ve got all your bases covered: You’ve got life insurance, a trust to avoid probate, an appointed executor and so on. But,” she asks, “what about your wisdom, beliefs, values, important family traditions and stories?” As a powerful illustration to her point, Roser quotes an African proverb: “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”
No doubt as someone reads these words they envision a complicated and time-consuming process that’s beyond their abilities, such as writing a book-length biography or hiring a videographer. But according to Roser, capturing your legacy for your loved ones doesn’t have to be so complex. If you prefer, she says, “keep your documentation process simple and write a short letter detailing your principles and feelings.” Even a few well-chosen words in a letter serve as “representations of your thoughts, heritage and life journey” that can one day “become the foundation upon which your family members build their lives.”
Most of us can relate to this idea to some degree, because we probably wish we had more insight into the thoughts, feelings and values of loved ones who have died. We may have grandma’s jewelry or dad’s high school yearbook, but these mementoes don’t reveal more than the basics of our loved ones’ lives. Apart from the emotional benefits, according to Roser writing in the Kiplinger article, there are also tangible benefits to sharing your story with generations yet to come. “Studies conducted at Emory University have shown that kids who know about their family’s past are more empathetic, have better coping skills and have higher self-esteem,” she says. “There are other benefits to passing on your life stories as well, from decreasing depression in older adults to connecting with family and building trust to increasing the likelihood of a successful wealth transfer.” Sharing your heartfelt values with your heirs can have a lasting, even multigenerational impact.
Roser writes that each of us possesses three broad “asset categories.” These include:
- Character assets: Your meaningful relationships, values, health, spirituality, heritage, purpose, life experiences, talents and plans for giving.
- Intellectual assets: Your business systems, alliances, ideas, skills, traditions, reputation and wisdom.
- Financial assets: Your physical wealth, investments and possessions.
The last category – financial assets – is generally the easiest to transfer. However, Roser says, the challenge with passing along things like character and values lies in finding ways to make these intangibles just as physical as your financial assets. “Even though your mother’s love, memories of summers at your grandparents’ house and lessons you’ve learned throughout your life may be more important to you than your car, there’s still the problem of turning those feelings, thoughts and insights into something that can be passed on to others.” She advises creating what she calls a “legacy vehicle” in order to make a tangible item out of something inherently intangible – a biography, memoir, book, letter, video or piece of artwork. The more artfully you capture what truly matters to you, the more meaningful and exciting it will be for your family to discover your core values, beliefs and personality in generations yet to come.
Roser concludes with four steps to help you get started in creating your legacy vehicle, including setting your goals, taking an inventory of what’s available to you, making a plan including how you want your creation copied and distributed, and then starting with some simple tasks to get the ball rolling. We think this is a good idea. Long after you’re gone, will your kids and grandkids recall what kind of person you were, what mattered to you, and how you lived your life? Having a legacy vehicle in place is a good way to ensure that they will.
Here at AgingOptions we like the concept of passing along to those you love the core values that have driven you in your earthly life. But we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that all too many seniors enter into their retirement and post-retirement years without making absolutely certain that they have informed their family about exactly how they want to live out the rest of their lives. Does your family fully understand your wishes – not just about how you want to die but about how you want to live as you age? And have you made sure through careful planning that you’ll have the financial, legal, housing and medical structures in place so you can live as you wish? We urge you to wait no longer, but instead to join Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions at one of our highly popular, extremely informative LifePlanning Seminars where we discuss these very issues. These free seminars, held throughout the region at various times each month, will open your eyes to the power of comprehensive planning and show you the way forward.
So why not take a simple next step and join us for a few hours? There’s no obligation whatsoever. Click here for details and online registration, or contact our office during the week and we’ll assist you by phone. As the Kiplinger article suggests, a “legacy vehicle” is a great idea, but don’t overlook the more immediate question of how you’ll spend your remaining years. We’ll see you soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Meanwhile – age on!
(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)