As you take stock of all of the good financial work you’ve done in the past, perhaps this is a good time either to supplement your comprehensive financial plan with a well-devised estate and legacy strategy, or to revisit the plan you already have in place. After all, the need to regularly assess your estate and legacy plans is as important of a recommendation that an advisor can make.
Estate planning is essential, unless you would prefer that your state of residence decide how your assets ultimately will be divided. The purpose of creating a will is to avoid this outcome. But even the instructions to divide your assets might not be the most important dictate in this essential document. If you have minor children, your will also determines their guardianship should that unfortunate situation arise.
Most estate planning attorneys package your will with two other important documents. Your durable power of attorney directive gives someone the ability to act on your behalf in financial matters if necessary. And your advance directives combine a health care power of attorney with a living will, so you’re the one who decides how challenging health care and end-of-life decisions should be made.
It may also be appropriate to include other tools, such as revocable and irrevocable trusts. If you’re charitably inclined, there are vehicles to help you plan generosity both during and after life. The most powerful estate planning document is also one of the simplest — the beneficiary designation form. This form stipulates primary and contingent beneficiaries for your retirement plans, life insurance and annuities. It will often trump the wishes in your will, so it’s important to ensure they’re all in sync. These documents are worthy of deliberation and review by an attorney specializing in estate planning.
What, then, is the difference between estate planning and legacy planning? Our estate is the collective, tangible accumulations we amass. Our legacy is the intangible impact we cultivate throughout life. Many people mistakenly presume that legacy building is something reserved only for the future. However, the decisions we make today and the goals we achieve this year are all building our legacy. Tim Maurer, director of personal finance for the BAM ALLIANCE, shares this story that speaks to the essence of legacy:
“In November, my friend — a 37-year-old husband, father, musician and teacher — lost a three-year battle with cancer. I expected the funeral to be very difficult, especially with his relative youth considered. But as person after person rose to share their stories about the way my friend had meaningfully impacted their lives, I realized that he’d left more of a legacy in 37 years than most leave in a lifetime.”
Estate planning is an important task, but legacy is a way of living. Each decision, every interaction, and yes, every dollar made and spent add up to something more. Our legacy. Let’s make it a good one.