Estate planning seems personal because it is all about you, your assets, your beneficiaries, and everything in between. In reality, however, estate planning documents are very impersonal because they are drafted for the purpose of conveying legal concepts; no one – not even an attorney – has ever claimed that legalese is a warm and fuzzy style of writing (there’s a reason John Grisham does not write his novels in the same prose and manner as he would a legal pleading). So let us find ways to make your estate plan personal and unique to your particular family.
Write down family recipes. I cannot tell you how many times my wife has wished that she had her mother’s old recipes to reference. The problem is those recipes were lost when my wife’s mother passed away because they were all memorized. Take the time to write down family favorite recipes so that in future years something as simple as split pea soup “made the way mom used to make it” will still be a family favorite that not only tastes great but brings up old and pleasant memories.
Create a family tree. People all across the United States shell out millions of dollars each year to help them learn everything they can about where they came from. This includes everything from researching their family tree to having their DNA tested to determine their genetic makeup. Creating a family tree gives people a reference as to who they are, where they came from, and why their family is unique and interesting. Take the time to give your family an understanding as to who they are by telling them where they came from.
Identify people in old photographs. Ever looked through old family photos and wondered, “Who is that standing there with my dad?” Take the time to pull out old photographs of your family and write down something about the people in the photos such as who they are, when the photo was taken, how they are related to your family, a funny story about them, etc.
Write a letter to your children and/or loved ones. I recently spoke with a friend of mine that received a letter as part of the administration of their father’s estate. The letter was not very long and did not touch on many issues as it was intended to convey how much my friend’s father loved her. Seeing her father’s handwriting and feeling the paper in her hands was to her the same as sitting down across from her father and hearing in his voice say the words on the page. My friend will hold onto this letter for years to come, and with every reading will be immediately taken down a path full of fond memories full of the warmth of a father’s love. You too can leave a lasting impact upon your children and other loved ones through something as simple as a heartfelt letter, drafted in your own handwriting, which is passed to them along with the “stuff” you leave to them.
As I said above, estate planning from a legal standpoint is cold and impersonal because the law does not give us much to work with in regard to making a lasting emotional impact on beneficiaries in the years that follow your death. You, however, can leave a legacy that is worth more than money and material possessions by taking the time to create for your beneficiaries memories that they will carry in their hearts and souls for years to come. The family history that you know of, the family recipes you have tucked away in your memory, the funny stories that you know and which bring joy to your own heart, are often the most precious and important assets we can leave behind. Take the time to make those assets count by putting thoughts and memories to paper and add those to your estate plan.
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