Your Legacy: Money, Mementos and Memories

By Peggy McGillin, CFP®

How do you want your children to remember you?

There’s a loaded question for you. I’m moved to ask it because of all the stories I keep hearing. They’re sad because the outcomes could have been so different. Here is one particular story that I’ve heard over and over again with slight variations.

The patriarch of a strong and proud family dies. This man was an accomplished and respected member of the community who held high standards for himself and his family. His children were loved and well provided for, and although (or perhaps because) he was known for being a strict son of a gun, they’re all productive adults.

Whether widowed or divorced, at some point the patriarch remarried. And, whether due to negligence, ignorance, bad advice, apathy, conniving, or spite, the new wife has now inherited everything. It’s her prerogative to pass along the “family treasures” as she sees fit: the silver from Mother’s side of the family, that signed baseball, Father’s flight jacket, those coveted season tickets, and, of course, all the money. To add insult to injury, she has her own kids from a previous marriage. So now, her children are summering at the cottage where the patriarch’s kids spent every summer of their lives until now.

This is not a story about evil stepmothers. This is about parents who just didn’t think it through or get it done. Perhaps, in some cases, this is indeed what Dad or Gramps truly wanted. More likely, he just ran out of steam along the way and couldn’t muster the motivation to attend to an estate plan.

Everyone knows that nature abhors a vacuum, and when the human mind doesn’t know the reasons for something, it tends to write a narrative to make sense of the situation. So carefully study the following words:
• Negligence
• Ignorance
• Bad Advice
• Apathy
• Conniving
• Spite
This is not a flattering list. I’ve been told by Howard McGillin, a family member who is an estate planning attorney in St. Augustine, Florida, that the number one reason people call to make an appointment with him is because the new client just attended the funeral of a friend or sibling who everyone agrees was far too young to die. It’s the stark reality about mortality that gets you thinking about how precarious your plans are.

No matter what ultimately motivates you, ask yourself, don’t you want to be the one who is calling the shots? Don’t you want to have a hand in how you’ll be remembered by those you brought into your world?

And, one more minor consideration: if you don’t attend to this, your estate will go through probate, which means it is public information. If you value your privacy and the privacy of your survivors, you will schedule this “someday” item on your to-do list: find an estate planning attorney before the end of next week.

I could shower you with all the benefits in doing so and the risks in not doing so. However, like your average teen, you’d probably tune me out even if it meant that you’d be giving up the most generous gifting opportunities in years, just as you’re not likely to dwell on updating your homestead protection due to recent changes, and these are mere details.

But, what I hope truly motivates you to get this done before it is too late is the thought of how you’ll be remembered by your children for the rest of their lives. It’s not very difficult or expensive to address these issues. You’ll need a will, a living trust, a health care proxy, a durable power of attorney, and most likely a trust; in addition, you will need to have your assets titled properly and make sure your beneficiary statements are updated to reflect your plan.

If I’ve helped to open your eyes, please let me know. I’d like to be remembered as the one who was looking out for you and your family. If you care at all about your legacy, get to it.

Peggy is the owner of Journey Financial Planners. To read her monthly blog, click here.

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