Estate planning is about much more than the tangible elements of life insurance and trusts, or investment accounts and wills. That’s because your money and possessions are not the only representations of your life. What about your beliefs and wisdom, your personal experiences and family stories? These are your legacy. They are the most valuable assets you can pass on to your loved ones and community. So, how do you make your legacy tangible?
“The challenge with character and intellectual assets is giving them the same kind of physicality that financial assets are given,” explains Laura Roser, author of Your Meaning Legacy. “Legacy vehicles are the physical structures that enable you to pass on your non-financial assets.”
One simple way to pass on your legacy is to write a heartfelt letter. You can also create short videos or audio recordings in which you share family traditions, memories and other stories. For those feeling especially ambitious, it has become easier than ever to create biographies, memoirs and other specialty books.
Regardless of how simple or elaborate you choose to be, you’ll want to include these items in your estate plan along with instructions for how they are to be shared and preserved. Remember, too, you don’t have to wait until your death to share them.
Sharing your life stories today can benefit you and your family in multiple ways. For example, a 2006 study from Emory University shows that children who know and understand their family’s history exhibit strong self-esteem and a belief that they can influence events and outcomes in their lives. Additional benefits, according to Roser, include decreasing depression in older adults, connecting with family, and increasing the likelihood of a successful wealth transfer.
Charitable giving can also include a legacy letter, video or other vehicle that shares personal wisdom and values. Your thoughts and insights will make the gift all the more meaningful to the recipient. A college student who benefits from your scholarship will also benefit from knowing why you gave. Nonprofit employees will appreciate knowing funds to continue their work came from someone with shared beliefs and values.
Just like the drafting of important financial papers, documenting your non-financial assets should be done before it becomes urgent or too late. Why not start right now?
Ideas to Help Make Your Legacy Tangible
- Pick a photo from your past and write a description of what was happening, how you felt when it was taken.
- Record a two-minute video about your wedding day, the day your child was born or a family tradition.
- Create a “Top 10” list (of things for which you are grateful, of mistakes you’ve made and learned from, or of actions you believe create a well-lived life).
- Write a letter to your family telling them you love them and what you consider to be their greatest gifts.