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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Some Thoughts on Legacy

Legacy means so much more than the assets we leave behind in the form of an inheritance.  Most of us never give much thought to what our legacy might be.  We think about a will, or trust, that carefully lays out how our property is distributed after we are gone.  It’s usually about our “stuff.” 

Interestingly, studies on adults and their inheritances may surprise and disappoint you.  The Journal of Family and Economic Issues reported that adults who receive an inheritance save only half of what they receive.  Other studies point to statistics showing virtually all money or property left to love ones in the form of an inheritance is consumed within 14-17 months.  So thinking in terms of money and property, a legacy has a very short shelf life.  With that in mind, let’s explore other ways to leave a legacy that will live on long after you are gone.

Charitable Giving.  Making charity a part of your estate plan does two important things.  Most obviously it provides support to a cause or causes you deem important.  But it is also a teaching moment for your loved ones; it reinforces the importance of providing for the greater good.  Many of us have made quiet personal promises to support a charity or cause “later,” or “when we can better afford it.”  Making room in your final wishes for charitable giving answers those promises.  Aside from the tax advantage charitable bequests generate, this selfless act can echo for generations.  Many people leave a percentage of their estate to charity instead of a specific dollar amount.  By leaving a percentage, your family and charity will receive proportionate shares regardless of how large or small your estate is.

Instead of leaving money to a charity in a will, you may also consider naming a charity as a beneficiary of an insurance policy or retirement plan.

Ethical will.  An ethical will has ancient origins, originally appearing in the Book of Genesis when a dying Jacob spoke with his sons to share wisdom and his hopes for how they should live their lives. Originally, ethical wills were communicated orally, but were later written as letters.  Today, ethical wills are known as “legacy letters.” It is a way to communicate to loved ones your hopes and dreams, regrets, and lessons learned.  Often apologies are offered and forgiveness is sought.  Family lore, favorite jobs, funny stories may all be part of your letter.  A well-circulated legacy letter was written by President Obama to his daughters on the eve of his first inauguration. Think of a legacy letter as a way to pass long not only wisdom, but your love to a future generation.  






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