LEAVING A LEGACY
It is a common belief that there is more to leave behind than the assets that you have acquired during your life. What can be even more valuable to your family are your values, ideals, hopes, dreams and lessons learned. And making a positive impact on lives in your community is a legacy that will endure for generations.
This section contains excerpts from the book, Manifest Your Legacy.
LEAVING A LEGACY TO YOUR FAMILY
Many of us have, at times in our lives, struggled to achieve success and find meaning to our existence. For some of us, that struggle continued for years while we learned through trial and error lessons that shaped our outlook and made us the persons that we are today.
Was your life experience a journey that led you to this point in time? Or did you one day have an epiphany that changed everything? Regardless of the manner in which you got here, the story of your life holds lessons and values for your loved ones.
As an estate planning attorney, I have had the experience of listening to clients as they strive to create a plan to distribute their worldly possessions after they are gone. Invariably, this conversation turns to their children. How they were when they were young. What kind of persons they have turned out to be.
Many times, these thoughts guide my clients in deciding what each child will receive. Instead of sending a message through the distribution of assets, wouldn’t it be fitting if they could put their feelings in a different type of will?
That different type of will has been referred to as an "ethical will" or as we will call it, a Legacy Statement.
The ethical will is an ancient tradition which many trace back to the Biblical story of Jacob, who before his death conferred a personal blessing on each of his twelve children. The practice reached its peak in the Middle Ages and has undergone a resurgence lately.
A Legacy Statement is a publication of a message you wish to give to those you leave behind. It can take the form of many different media. While most Legacy Statements are in writing, an ever-increasing number are being delivered by audio or video recordings.
It is important to realize that a Legacy Statement is not a legal document. It may express your wishes and desires, but it should not be intended as a legally binding instrument.
A Legacy Statement allows you to deliver a personal story based on a theme you select. Legacy Statements may be long journals or brief letters. Each is as unique as its author, but most have certain elements in common.
1. A Target Audience. This is the object of your message and lesson. The person or persons to whom you are directing the Legacy Statement. It may be your spouse, your children, your friends, your community or anyone you intend to be impacted by your statement.
2. A Message. The message is the expression of the purpose for writing the Legacy Statement. You will need to decide the purpose of your Legacy Statement. Some examples of the reasons people write Legacy Statements are:
• To impart advice to those who follow you.
• To serve as a love letter to those who mean so much to you.
• To introduce yourself to future generations who will never have the honor of meeting you in person.
• To emphasize what has been important to you and has been a profound influence in your life.
• To tell your personal story; your hopes, your dreams, your disappointments. It may be a narrative of past successes and failures, an accounting of your life. Some writers use the occasion to speculate how they would do things differently if they had the chance to "do it all over again."
3. A Lesson. Out of the message comes a directive or lesson that you may wish to impart. You can use your life experiences to create a background for your statement of the moral and ethical principles you implore your heirs to follow.
LEAVING A LEGACY TO YOUR COMMUNITY
Many people feel compelled to give back to their community. After all, what better way is there to leave your legacy than by helping others? A plan of charitable giving is the action behind the words of the Legacy Statement.
There are causes near and dear to each of our hearts that we have a desire to support. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to set up a charitable plan. Even more unfortunate, many don’t believe they have the resources to contribute to charity.
There are many different ways to set up a charitable program. No matter what the size of your estate, you can create a vehicle that will allow you to give to the cause of your choice, on your terms, for generations to come. Even smaller estates can create a charitable legacy that will positively impact lives. Did you know that you can reduce and eliminate estate taxes through charitable giving? That it's possible to give a large portion of your estate to charity and still have your heirs receive a larger inheritance than if you had not given?
If you have a large estate, you are going to be a philanthropist whether you plan for it or not. If you make no charitable plan of your own, your default charity will be the United States Treasury.
Estate taxes are levied at the federal and state levels and confiscate a significant percentage of all estates that exceed the maximum estate tax credit. Some high net worth individuals have engaged in estate planning to be able to pass the maximum amount allowed by law to their heirs. But in a lot of cases, part of the estate is still subject to estate taxes. For these taxpayers, their legacy is contributing to the programs and operations of the government.
Think about it. Do you believe the government is doing a good job of applying our tax money? Or do you think you can make better decisions on how that money is used?
What a lot of people don’t know is that their charity doesn’t have to be the government. You can control that part of your estate that is earmarked to go to the government in the form of estate taxes. How much of an impact do you think your estate tax contribution will make to society? And what will it support? Will it be a program or cause that you feel strongly about, or will it be used in a way that does not represent your values? Remember, sharing your legacy is about passing on your values.
Fortunately, the government has provided us with certain credits and deductions to apply against our estate tax liability. The most powerful of these is the charitable deduction. Any portion of your estate that you contribute to a qualified charity is not counted as a portion of your estate that is subject to estate taxation. In addition, charitable contributions provide deductions that will reduce your income tax liability and the charitable deduction can be used to actually increase the size of your estate.