THE LEGACY DISCUSSION
THE TANGIBLE COMPONENT
There are many things to consider when planning the long lasting, tangible items you would like to leave others. This is very personal work, since it will be a physical remembrance and is something that will remain with the recipients forever. It may be something they can touch, look upon, utilize or even pass down to others. It may also come with some words from you as to its use or how you would like to see it cared for in the future. Here’s a list of tangible items you may leave others and we will address each one individually:
- A favorite charity(s)
- Family heirloom(s)
- Special items: Books, trinkets, coins, pictures, etc.
Wealth – Depending on the value of the wealth being passed along, and the number of people or institutions to be benefitted, this can be either easy or complicated. To begin with, you should make a list of what and whom you want to pass the wealth, and then decide the $ value or % that you want to pass to each. You should then consult an estate attorney to draft the documents that reflect your wishes and determine if there are any tax advantaged ways of passing the wealth to avoid taxation as part of the discussion. You have worked hard your whole life and you may want to make the road a little easier for your heirs or others. It will always be appreciated, and hopefully, put to good use. You may want to specify what the gift can be used for. If you have some heirs that are spendthrifts, for example, you may want to be very specific as to its use, or you may want to say “Take that long deserved vacation” to others. Whatever the case, write it down, share it with a spouse or significant other, since he or she may have to face the music, and codify it. Since circumstances and intentions may change, be sure you can modify it in the future to ensure your desires are met.
A favorite charity(s) – You may also want some of your wealth to go to an organization, school, or religious group that has helped you in the past or for which you have a special affinity. Depending on the size of the gift, you should consult an estate attorney for the best tax advantaged method of contribution and how it should be structured. You should also contact the organization to find someone you can work with as part of the gift, since you may want to have something named in your honor or simply ensure it is going to go to the right place in the organization.
Depending on the size of the gift you would like to make, you may want to consider establishing a foundation or a donor-advised fund through a financial firm, so your gift will go on into the future. Discuss this option with your attorney or your financial firm.
Family Heirloom(s) – Some special things were given to you in the past, and now it’s your turn to pass them along. Deciding who receives them may not be as easy as first considered, only because you want to ensure that whomever you give them to, will keep them safe and pass them along just as you have. If the tradition is they go to the oldest in the family, but the oldest in the family may pawn them for cash, a tradition needs to be changed. Make sure that whomever you entrust the heirlooms understands their significance and will care for them properly. You may want to pass them along early and have a discussion with whoever receives them, so he or she understand their importance. You may also want to provide specific instructions for their care and handling or how you would like them stored. The people in your past who gave you the heirlooms trusted you. Now you need to trust the person or persons you entrust with them.
Memorialization(s) – Have you seen those benches in a park or on the beach entrances with someone’s name and a short statement about the person, or a brick at a baseball stadium, or possibly a dedicated tree? Is there a special place that you would like to be remembered? If so, you need to detail the specifics so others can carry out your wishes. And so they don’t have to do too much work, it would be nice if you did the homework for them and detailed who to contact, $ required, and what you would like it to say, or you can leave it up to them. But it’s important that you write down this request, or else no one will know and it will not happen. Yes, some work, but you should complete it if you want to ensure it happens.
Special items – You may want to give each of your loved ones something to remember you by. It could be a picture, an object, a special memory written down or anything else you feel important for that person to have. You could provide it ahead of time and have a discussion with the person as to why you are giving it to them, or you may want to put in an envelope (if possible) and include a letter with your thoughts. I know in my case I plan on doing the latter since I do want it to be special and express my thoughts and reasons for the object. I anticipate a discussion among them afterwards along the lines of “Why did X get that and me this”, so I am going to try to keep the objects as equal and neutral as possible. Nobody said this would be easy. So, sit down, develop your thoughts, get it done, and tell your spouse, family member or other trusted person where they can find the objects to ensure your wishes are carried out.
Planning this part of your legacy is very important since these are hard objects that will be looked upon for many years to come. Taking the time to ensure they mean what you want them to mean, to those who receive them, is central to how those close to you, and those who never knew you in the case or charities or organizations, will remember you in the future. So, again, carefully consider your intentions, ensure they are codified if necessary, or your letters reflect your thoughts, and breathe easy. The recipients will be most appreciative and understand the importance of the thoughts and work you express in the gifts.
Next, your intangible legacy.