As an Estate Planning Attorney, I come across several interesting articles about estate planning every day. This past week was different though. This week, I have been bombarded with huge messages about legacy, and most of these messages were not from any of my estate planning memberships or colleagues.
One of my colleagues did alert me to an interesting article written by Paul Sullivan and published by the New York Times, titled, "A Child's Legacy Is More Than Money," and the author did a fantastic job of describing how working with an attorney on the document-portion of planning is the easy part. He says that the most crucial part of planning is teaching his children how to live in the world, to pass on his and his wife's values, and he surmises that it may take 30+ years to impart these values.
Of course, sometimes you don't have 30+ years, and what is a parent to do then? Our clients, and the clients of many of my colleagues, all have the opportunity to record a message (called a Family Treasures Conversation at our firm) to their family that outlines a variety of topics, such as their most important values and how they want the guardians to raise their children. The recording will be treasured whenever it is heard by the kids. It will of course be important if the parents die too soon, but it will also be cherished if the parents die after a long life. It will encapsule a moment in time when the kids were young and the parents did everything they could to make sure that they took care of everything in the best way possible.
Additionally, I read a really touching article by Mary Lou Quinlan in Real Simple magazine last week called, "The God Box." I tell all of my clients that one of the things that has affected me the most about my mother's death when I was 2 1/2 was that she didn't leave anything behind to tell me who she was as a person. (This is the main reason why I implemented the Family Treasures Conversation with my clients.) In this article, the author talks about how, throughout most of her adult life, her mother used what she called "The God Box." This was a box where she'd put little papers with prayers on them, from monumental ones about her husband's stroke, to seemingly trivial ones about everyday decisions to be made. The prayers all had dates on them, and sometimes she would insert little thank you notes when a prayer was answered. She would fill a box up and then start a new one, so by the time of her death, there were several boxes. These boxes served as a light into the mother's soul after she was gone. The author went through all the boxes and laughed as she found prayers about the author's difficult coworkers, and she cried as she saw prayers that her mother had written about her own (secret) physical pain. This was such a unique way for the author to be able to know who her mother was, and it really got me thinking about what "thing" my kids will remember most about me.
Over the weekend, I watched a movie called Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank. It was a true story about a teacher in California who reaches her inner-city students by having them write in journals. She eventually gets the kids to read The Diary of Anne Frank, and while they find the end to be very upsetting, they discover that Anne has never died, because her story lives on. The kids all find a lot of hope in this, since many of them face death and despair every day. They continued to write in their own journals, which were eventually published into a book called The Freedom Writers Diary. A foundation was formed by the teacher and the students to carry on the work in other classrooms. Many of the students went on to be the first in their families to graduate high school and go to college. Talk about a legacy!
All of these items that I came across in the past week really got me thinking about legacy, and how important it is for our kids and for ourselves to be mindful of what our legacy will be and how we will pass it on. We do have the power to live on and guide our kids, but we have to first face the possibility of death and then plan ahead to make sure we've left pieces of ourselves behind.
What will your legacy look like?
To your family's health & prosperity,