It may not seem so sometimes, but your children value your opinion. The older they get, the more importance they place on things like your ethics, moral teachings and values. That’s why it is extremely important to leave a legacy after you are gone that your children can turn to when they need it.
Leaving your legacy is an integral part of my on-going series of columns on estate planning. My last column “Passing the torch” to another generation concerned the family meeting. Hopefully, the Alpha Child (you or another sibling) has arranged the date, time and place of this momentous occasion and all the invitees (advisor, parents and adult kids) are on hand.
The room is quiet. A certain tension builds, since no one knows how this will turn out. The parents’ advisor asks if anyone has any questions. If not, than I suggest the first subject to be addressed is your legacy and that of your spouse. It is a good ice breaker and normally changes the mood while developing a rapport among the family.
Whether you know it or not, you, your parents and your kids share virtues and values that have built and guided your family through the years. It is up to you to articulate those that you would like to see continued through the family’s future generations. These are the things that you feel bring out the best in you and your family. They are values that you share and have shaped your individual lives. These values can also apply to such things as the environment, property and even your country.
You may have certain charities or other nonprofit organizations that have become important in your lives. You might want to include these organizations in your will. Faith and religion may also be an important element in your family life. Are there traditions, beliefs, cultural, and/or religious doctrines that you would like to perpetuate in some way?
Are there items such as that antique silver cross or Menorah, for example, that your ancestors prized and carried to these shores when they immigrated? Who will be entrusted to preserve and take care of such things? Have you left any religious organizations in your will? If so, what are they and how can they be found?
Family traditions may be important to you. Your family may be big on holiday get- togethers or reunions, family trips or gatherings with friends. My son-in-law’s family, for example, meets once a year. The clan gathering is so large at this point that the organizers must rent hotel space for 40-50 people or more. There is a lot of history exchanged during those weekends, where the kids learn rituals and hear stories of their relatives and ancestors.
In this Baby Boomer age of acquiring possessions—collections, memorabilia, jewelry,, household items etc.—passing them down to your kids may not be as easy as it looks. Take it from me; no one (including Good Will) wants your brown furniture. Furthermore, what may have emotional or sentimental value to you may not be your childrens’ cup of tea. That stamp, coin or baseball card collection may not have a willing taker. It is best that you know that now, rather than have it sold or auctioned off at a distressed price later.
That diamond brooch or necklace you acquired in South Africa may have several expectant daughters (or in-laws) assuming they will be the lucky beneficiaries. You need to create a designated plan on how all these items will be distributed. Don’t let the kids sort it out after you go. The last thing you want to do is create fights or hard feelings among your loved ones.
If you are planning to make financial gifts to anyone in your will, they should be enumerated. I know one client who plans to leave half his estate to someone other than his family. Better the kids know it now than later.
Finally, have you documented you and your family’s lives together? Are there documents that you would like to leave behind? Photo albums, electronic or otherwise, journals, diaries, scrapbooks, all of those items should be gathered and placed in a safe place where those who care can find them. You might have a family tree or genealogical studies, as well as important documents such as passports that need to be included. How about doing a series of videos where you can recount your life, lessons learned and advice to your kids and grandchildren?
That’s enough to think about for now. As you now realize, these are not trivial matters. It will take some thought and discussion between you and your spouse to develop a legacy that is right for you. We will get into the nitty gritty of topics that come next in this family meeting. Such things as wills, durable power of attorney, and real estate will be explored in future columns, so stay tuned.