“You Can’t Take It With You,” is a phrase we often hear that reminds us that what we have now isn’t going to last forever. It may be true that you can’t take it with you, but more and more of us are now making certain that we leave a very definite legacy behind for the ones we love. In this article, we will explore the process of legacy planning or estate planning from the practical aspects of writing a will and leaving gifts to worthy organizations, through to the merits of recording your own personal memories and family history for future generations to relish and remember you by.
Writing a will
It is one of those things we choose not to think about too much. After all, a will is an admission that thing won’t always be the way they are now. But a will is also one of the most crucial documents you will ever write, and might be required at any time. That’s why it’s important to commit to one sooner rather than later. Perform an internet search for “writing a will” and the options are near endless and depending on your circumstances it can be reasonably easy to construct one. Yet nothing should be rushed into. “This is Money” suggests in its list of “Ten Tips for a Perfect Will” that trusted lawyers, executors, guardians and trustees are imperative for a watertight will. So too is being specific in your legacy planning (down to particular objects, like an antique clock) and the physical safekeeping of a will. Essentially, feeling comfortable with your will in every aspect is a necessity. That involves initial research and discussing it with people you have faith in.
Keeping on top of a will is imperative too, and it is recommended you review it once a year. On top of this, as “CNN Money” states, you should reexamine it after major life changes, these including “the death of one of your heirs; the birth of a potential new heir; a significant shift in your financial situation; major adjustments to your investment portfolio; real estate purchases and sales; and changes to the tax code.” Ironic though it may sound, a will is very much a living document.
Leaving a bequest
Aside from friends and family, many will makers and legacy planners have specific organizations they hold dear to their hearts, and wish to “repay” in their will. These may be medical organizations they have close connections with or perhaps a charity that has a particular link with a hobby or passion. Commonly, the bequest you make to any organization will be dealt with in your will. But before this is decided, there are points to consider. Firstly, it is often a good idea to discuss the amount of money you plan to leave with close family and friends, especially those who are also involved in the will. Yes, your money is your own, but occasionally, benefactors can be upset if they realize they will receive less because of a charitable donation on your part. Discussing your reasons for the donation often alleviates this.
Secondly, consider talking to the organization you wish to bequeath money to about the legacy you want to leave. It may seem obvious to you why you wish to leave them something, but by contacting them directly, they may be able to show you exactly where your money will go, how it will help them and what an appropriate amount might be.
Lastly, be aware that the bequest you make to an organization could make your inheritance eligible for tax breaks. As Rachel Emma Silverman of the “Wall Street Journal” says, “Making a bequest reduces the size of your estate, effectively leaving less money subject to estate taxes.” Putting in time and effort to do the math may mean that upon your death, benefactors will hold on to more of your money, as opposed to giving it to the taxman.
Recording your past
While writing a will covers the practical aspect of estate and legacy planning, it doesn’t deal with the emotional side your legacy as a person. Not so long ago, what was often left of people after they died was perhaps letters and a few faded photographs from that trip to the French countryside. Now, there are a million and one ways to record your feelings, opinions and stories your part in your family history. A memoir is still possibly one of the best. Whereas in the past, these were only considered worthy if penned by high-caliber celebrities or authors, it’s generally accepted now that everyone has a story to tell, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be one that reaches readership of millions. Self-publishing websites such as Lulu make it easy for you to get your writing in print, or converted into an e-book, and these make great gifts for friends and family. If writing is not your forte, help is at hand. There are, for instance, accommodating blogs such as Jerry Waxler’s “Memory Writers Network,” providing inspiration and tips for the budding memoir writer. Sourcing a “ghostwriter” is another option; you’ll find a cornucopia of freelance writers who will be willing to piece your reminisces into a professional-reading text. Autobiographies no longer have to be big, weighty tomes either; you could simply write your memoirs in installments as a blog, published online once a week.
The autobiographical route is not for everyone, but alternative options are near-endless. You might want to record a music album, compile a book of your all-time favorite recipes, donate an object or collection to a local museum, complete a series of artworks depicting monumental occasions in your life or delve into your family history, painting a full picture of who came before you, and the role you played in moving the family forward. There will always be people to remember you when you are no longer here. But by thoroughly planning your own legacy, you can make sure you’re remembered the way you’d like to be.