One of my greatest rewards as an elder law attorney is seeing people accomplish their legacy goals. We all leave a legacy, and we get to choose what it looks like. Often, when attorneys or financial advisers use the word “legacy,” it is in the context of wealth left to loved ones after someone passes. However, your legacy is everything you do, the guidance and values you leave behind, along with your family history.
A recent study by Merrill Lynch found 69% of people want to be remembered by “the memories I have shared with my loved ones.” A great way to do this is through storytelling. To help memories live on, record your story digitally, or in writing. Bart Astor, an AARP author, wrote about how to transition your story, as well as your family’s history, through a memoir. www.nextavenue.org/how-craft-your-memoir.
In the same study, 9% want to be remembered for their career, and a small portion, at 4%, want to be remembered for the wealth they give their families. Which begs the question: Why do the 55% of people who do estate planning, such as a will, primarily focus on the “here’s what to do with my stuff when I pass” portion of their plan?
Only 18% of people over 55 have appointed someone with the legal authority to help them make medical or financial decisions while they are alive. Planning helps ease the burden on spouses and children, so they know what to do in an emergency or care event, and have the legal authority to carry out their loved one’s wishes.
Of respondents over age 55, 73% described a big shift in the monetary portion of their legacy plans, saying they don’t feel the need to wait until they pass to share their wealth. Often, I have been a proponent of this for sentimental items. You get to see the joy on your children’s and grandchildren’s faces when you give them things that carry meaning for you. It’s another meaningful way to share the story portion of your legacy. The tools my great-grandfather left me are among my most prized possessions, because they remind me of the amazing man who taught me how to use them.
Sixty-six percent of respondents, 55 and older, also said they are more comfortable giving a child who is more active in their lives, especially if they are their caregiver, a larger share of a final inheritance. I see this more, where fair isn’t necessarily equal, for a variety of reasons. With more individualized planning techniques, equality still can be accomplished, without the worries of fighting or court battles if everything isn’t split identically.
By Josh Nelson, contributing writer and elder care law attorney with Nelson Elder Care.