It’s Not Just About the Money: The Legacy You Leave Your Family

Words like “estate planning”, “inheritance”, and “bequest” can leave the impression of assets, property, or accounts with significant monetary value. However, you can leave your family a legacy regardless of the size of your bank account.

1. Make a Plan
Often, people who do not have a lot of money think that it is unnecessary to have an estate plan. But an estate plan is about more than just the size of your “estate” and passing your financial wealth to the next generation. It also involves planning for the care of yourself and dependent loved ones during time that you may be incapacitated, making your wishes known with regard to certain items of property, burial arrangements, and end-of-life care decisions. Family relationships have been irreparably damaged over the question of who gets the homemade Christmas tree ornaments, and children have agonized over how much to spend on their parent’s casket and other burial arrangements, not wanting to skimp on something they feel represents their love for their parent.

Your family can have peace of mind knowing with certainty that they are carrying out your wishes if they have a clear understanding of what those wishes are. Whether or not you have much money, you can leave an important legacy to your family simply by making a plan.

2. Avoid Unnecessary Expenses
Although a number of things are more important than money, there is nothing wrong with preserving the money you have. You can leave more money for your family or other beneficiaries by avoiding unnecessary estate administration expenses such as probate. If you own a home, you can avoid probate by creating a trust and transferring your property into the trust or, perhaps, by using a Ladybird or transfer-on-death deed. If you have bank accounts, retirement accounts, or life insurance policies, you can avoid probate by using payable-on-death designations, transfer-on-death registrations, and beneficiary designations, or by transferring the accounts into a trust.

Spending some effort up front by using such types of designations can save a lot in later expenses and delays. If your estate (the total value of all or your assets) is below certain limits set by state law, there may be some simplified form of probate administration available. However, the limit amounts vary from state to state, so it is important to understand what your state’s limits are and rely on the simplified probate only as a last resort.

3. Write Personal Letters
Personal letters are another great thing you can leave for your loved ones. Other than the investment of some time, the letters cost little or nothing, but often prove to be far more valuable than vast amounts of money. Personal letters could share stories, give encouragement, provide advice, or express emotions. In the letter you could share special memories, important lessons you feel you have learned in life, or appreciation for your loved ones.

4. Family Traditions
Family traditions are a wonderful and lasting legacy. What makes them even more wonderful is that they can be completely tailored to your family’s interests and priorities, they can be started at any time, and they do not have to cost a lot of money. Many traditions revolve around holidays, such as picnics at the lake on the Fourth of July or decorating Christmas cookies together. Maybe your family has traditions around the watching your favorite university athletic events or Friday pizza night.

Even if you do not currently have many family traditions, it is not too late to start. Your own imagination is the only limit on creating a fun tradition that your family looks forward to and repeats regularly.

5. Family Heirlooms
It is important not to underestimate the value of family heirlooms. Although heirlooms may or may not be worth much money, their sentimental value can be enormous. There may be fond memories attached to the glasses Grandma used when she served dinner or the black skillet your father used when he made his special fried chicken.

It is crucial that the story of the item’s significance also be preserved so that an unsuspecting but well-meaning person does not throw the item out with the trash. So be sure to record to whom the item belonged, how it was used, and why it is important.

Family heirlooms may not carry much financial value, but could convey stories, memories, and legacies that are priceless.

6. Pictures
The adage says that a picture is worth a thousand words. Often pictures carry other great worth. You can create a family history with pictures by snapping photos of everyday family activities as well as big family events.

Also, be sure to go through old family photos, because you may be the keeper of some of the only surviving photos of certain ancestors. Helping younger generations understand who their grandparents and great-grandparents were with pictures that can put faces to names is a valuable legacy to leave.

7. Family History
A person can derive identity and much strength from knowing where they came from, what struggles and challenges their ancestors went through, and how they prevailed. There are a number of sources available to help you trace your family history back through hundreds of years. But a family history can also start with your own story, which you can preserve by writing down or making a voice or video recording of your personal experiences.

Children, grandchildren, and subsequent generations will consider it a great treasure to learn your thoughts about where and how you grew up, the challenges you faced, and how you persevered through them. You can also record your memories of your parents and grandparents if they did not write their own personal histories.

Even if you do not have a lot of money to leave to your family, you can still leave them a great legacy by making a plan, avoiding unnecessary expenses, writing personal letters, leaving family heirlooms, creating family traditions memorialized with pictures, and recording your own and your family’s history.

We are here to help you preserve and convey your family legacy. Schedule time with us to get the process started.