Drafting an estate plan is often seen as a rather mechanical process. Items like who gets what stuff, who will do the dividing and how the estate will be administered, are all boxes waiting to be checked off. Beneficiaries of an estate want to review the plan with one singular purpose: “what’s in there for me?”
Often the estate includes some things that no one will likely want. Grampa’s old leisure suits come to mind. Although if the Birkenstocks and retro black and white sneakers of the 1960s can make a comeback, you never know. Many estates also have what were once valuable antiques or oriental rugs that millennials no longer find appealing. Some estate sale professionals have indicated the value of such items has declined by about a third over just the last five years.
But many estates consist of things that might not be considered valuable unless the beneficiary understood where they came from and the story behind them. Sadly, one can only imagine many such items were disregarded because the history got separated from the item.
At a recent advanced estate planning conference, one of the speakers directed us to the history of George Washington’s swords. He had many of them, and often wore them as part of his everyday attire as would be expected for a military leader of his time. Since he had no children of his own, he gave five of the swords to nephews, with admonitions as to the order of selection and how they were to be used. These items were greatly treasured by the nephews and their families, and most of them stayed in the family for many generations as treasures because of the rich history surrounding the gifts. You can read more about this at www.mountvernon.org. Most of these swords have now found their way back to Mount Vernon.
Purposeful Planning in Action
Likely most of us don’t own anything so collectible as one of these famous swords. But this subject has made me more aware of the need to help clients with creating a purposeful estate plan that can pass along not only the stuff, but also the stories behind them. As most of the World War II veterans are deceased, we are running out of living members of what has been called the Greatest Generation. How many of their stories are lost forever with their passing?
While not everyone has a fascinating history to tell, at least most of us have one thing, and that is the love of our children and grandchildren. Maybe we should pass our love for them along with the “stuff” by telling them of our feelings for them, and our hopes of how their inheritance will be used.
A good example of this came from another speaker at a different conference. He mentioned that an inheritance from one set of the couple’s parents was received and spent, without his really being able to recall what they did with it. But the other inheritance was attached to a purpose, although I can’t recall whether that purpose was expressed by the parents or determined by the couple. But regardless, they decided to use the second inheritance as a vacation fund. And for many years afterward, they thought fondly of the parents with each trip they took.
Other ways to express feelings are to tell children and grandchildren how they are loved, and what one hopes will be achieved by the gifts. This is often a fitting gesture when education gifts are made to grandchildren.
Have you incorporated any purpose into your dispositive documents?
Have you written letters to children and other loved ones to convey your feelings as a supplement to your planning? If you are interested in adding some purpose to your planning, carve out some time to ponder what else you want your heirs to take away from your planning, or schedule a consultation with an experienced estate planner to learn more.
By Mike Carroll