If you are a fan of crime writing and TV drama you may have a romantic notion of a Last Will and Testament being your voice from the grave. The opportunity for you to tell everybody what you really think of them and share some of your values and opinions. In reality, a Last Will and Testament is generally a clinical legal document that must be unambiguous and to the point. It has to clearly set up the roles and responsibilities of the Executor and Trustee, unequivocally lay out your wishes for the distribution of the estate, and include clear instructions for additional responsibilities like guardians for minor children. Because the document has to be completely unambiguous, it is not the most appropriate vehicle for sharing your opinions on the World and your circle of loved ones.
Having said that, it is extremely important to be able to leave a little of yourself for future generations, and now people talk about the leaving of a “legacy” beyond your estate. A legacy plan differs from an estate plan because it communicates your values, wishes and memories rather than the distribution of your possessions.
There is more connecting the Last Will and Testament to the Legacy Plan than you may at first think. You may have chosen to leave tens of thousands of pounds or dollars to a child or grandchild – a legacy plan would give you the opportunity to share with that young person the values that go along with that inheritance. If you have spent a lifetime frugally accumulating a reasonable estate, it would go against all of your principles for the recipient of an inheritance to rush out a buy a new Porsche with their new-found wealth. With an inheritance comes responsibilities and although a Will may make passing reference to the sentiment behind a bequest, it is not a place to share your moral values and explain how you would want an inheritance to be received. If for example you accumulated some money by placing every loose penny in a jar for your whole life and then investing those pennies wisely, a $2,000 inheritance may mean a little more to the recipient than a new big screen TV.
Your legacy documents should be stored with your estate planning documents and can be made up of things like a video message, letters to loved ones, a scrapbook of important events, photos, memorabilia and journals. There is a wonderful book called Your Legacy of Love by Gemini Adams that explains the importance of your legacy items with practical tips for creating a lasting legacy. The book includes the amazing statistic;
“If one of your parents died, what would you prefer: to inherit their money, or a letter saying how much they loved you?” Over 90% expressed a wish for the loving letter.
So although it is important to have your estate planning documents in place, consider complementing those documents with a description of what your estate means to you and what your loved-ones mean to you. Explain why your estate is being distributed the way you have outlined in your Will and share some of your values that should accompany any inheritance.