Leaving one's legacy, in my opinion, involves much more than writing a Will to say who gets your things when you die. It involves reaching into your past and telling your life story including recalling specific memories, telling of family history, expressions of love and regret, and granting or requesting forgiveness. It also involves looking into the future to express values, hopes and wishes for loved ones. It is not only comforting for our loved ones to receive a personal written legacy, it can also be satisfying for you to know that your loved ones will receive your personal written legacy if you die suddenly.
Sadly, not many individuals make a Will. Statistics reveal that about 30% of individuals make an estate plan. Significantly fewer people take the time to write a personal legacy. Understandably this is difficult to do as we must face death and pause from our fast-paced lives long enough to reflect and write. And the world now is calling to each of us to do just that. According to the 2012 Alliance Life Insurance Company of North America American Legacies Pulse Study, released the results of a study of baby boomers who were asked whether they would prefer as the legacy from their parents either handwritten stories of their past verses receiving cash. 87% of baby boomers pooled said that they would prefer handwritten family stories verses 10% electing to receive cash.
While at first blush this may not make sense, after some thought it feels natural. Cash is created and transferred to be spent and used up. Our unique history, where we came from, our life experiences, values, and traditions are intended to be passed on from generation to generation. It would be very sad to leave cash to our beneficiaries without also leaving them a personal legacy. My Heartfelt Will provides what are called "ice breakers" - different ideas and examples as to what you might want to journal as your personal legacy.
My hope for our community is that we establish this personal writing as part of a ritual in preparation of death. Long ago, our ancestors wrote their own Will. They would tap into stone admonishments such as "don't drink, don't smoke, marry a Doctor or don't marry a Doctor." Now things have become so complicated that people hire lawyers to write their Will for them, and in the course of writing the legal documents, the lawyer bleaches out all of the heartfelt personal statements.
I ask my clients after they sign their estate planning documents to tell me what color they are. Perplexingly, they respond: "black and white." Yet, everyone's life is everything but black and white, it is colorful, full of depth, and is dynamic.
I urge you to go beyond the legal estate plan and write your own personal legacy to put the color back into your estate plan, add your voice into your plan and provide you with peace of mind knowing that your heart will be felt. It also provides your loved ones with a lasting personal legacy providing comfort in years to come.
I created a booklet for my clients to use to write their personal legacy, called My Heartfelt Will. I encourage each of my clients to take time out of their busy lives to sit quietly and contemplatively to write their own personal legacy. I tell them that they are doing a great job as they just completed their estate plan and are among the 30% of people to do so, and this gives them the opportunity to take the next very important step and create their own personal legacy.
My Heartfelt Will Serves As An Organizer:
We all have our own personal way of organizing our important papers and keeping track of our financial assets and professionals. However, it can prove very confusing for the Trustee to understand your organization method. My Heartfelt Will includes an organizer so that you can relay this important information to those who you've appointed to follow your estate planning instructions after you pass away. This will make it much easier for the Trustee and beneficiaries to execute your wishes.
Write your own Operator's Manual
When people come to see me, they ask me to help them write their Last Will and Testament, their Final Legacy, something to speak for them when they are no longer here. We lawyers then put the estate plan through a bleaching process whereby the end product comes out black and white, one-dimensional, and sterile, almost without meaning.
However, everyone's life is dynamic, textured, ever-changing, and meaningful. In order to provide personal meaning to the estate plan, My Heartfelt Will allows you to write your own hopes, wishes; and direction - much like an Operation Manual for the Trust. Here you can put your own ideas as to how you hope the beneficiaries will utilize their inheritance and how you would like them to continue certain traditions, celebrations, and ceremonies.
I have also created an online blog, where you can keep informed and find valuable information regarding the process and use of this booklet.