How to Leave a Legacy of Love

After loving serving our clients through this law firm for over 16 years, we realized that when we read a client’s estate plan, all we knew is who that person was, and how much they are leaving to whom…we knew nothing about the heart and soul of the client by reading their estate plan.  We decided it was time to take estate planning to another level…wouldn’t it be wonderful, if when you die, you leave not only your wealth, but your Heart?  Your Wisdom?  Your hopes and dreams for your loved ones?

To give you an example, Stacy DenHerder and her husband, Chuck, have an estate plan with a Revocable Living Trust.  They have two children, Cory & Carsten, who are 13 & 9.  Not only does their estate plan spell out who will raise the kids, and how they want their kids raised if they are not here to do it themselves, but it has a message to the boys about the type of woman they hope they will marry; a message about what they believe it takes to have an excellent marriage; a message about why bad things happen to good people, and they hope that Cory & Carsten will maintain their faith in God; and a message about how hard they worked to accumulate what they have… so that when the boys do inherit, they won’t spend it on a whim, but will give careful thought and consideration to how they will manage what was lovingly given to them!  What a powerful lasting legacy of love!!

The purpose of this type of planning is to give those you leave behind, those you love, and those who will be reading this document for years to come, a word picture of who you are, your ethics, morals, the events that shaped your life!  It should outline the heritage of the inheritance you are leaving behind (was it formed by your own blood, sweat and tears?  By the hard labor of your grandparents?  By your own foresight that you would not be able to leave a legacy unless you planned and bought life insurance?) This is an opportunity to leave a love letter that lasts beyond your time on this earth.  This is intended to be a guide; to inspire you¼but make this your own!

In our planning, we incorporate some questions to consider, to help motivate you; and where we have examples, we provide them. Some examples of legacy letters include:

  • A letter of love to those you leave behind (this could be a general letter to all, or specific letters to each one)
  • A letter of comfort – if you have young children that may not understand why bad things could happen to their parents, write something to comfort them
  • A letter of your testimony – If your religion is important to you, give your testimony; your basis for what you believe
  • Remember people who have shaped your life (you can either give a small token gift of money to each of these people, or simply a word remembrance); or something funny, poignant, or memorable about each of your loved ones
  • Hopes and Dreams for the future that you have for your loved ones (their view of life; how they will interact with others; the type of work they will choose; the type of person they will marry; how they will raise their own kids; the type of grandparents you hope they will be, etc.)
  • Lessons Learned – Things you learned that were so valuable, that you want others to hear about them and take away what they can
  • Instruction on Raising your Kids  – An overall letter of how you want your kids raised if you are not here to do it …
    • Your general views of how you want your children to turn out (values, morals, ethics, etc)
    • Your views about money (should your kids have to work to pay for a car or their own entertainment; should they receive an allowance; should they borrow money for college; your feelings about debt, etc.)
    • Your views about the people you want to have regular contact with your kids (or not) – family, friends, etc.
  • Wishes about your own personal care:
    • What “quality of life” really means to me (for example, I used to believe that I would want to live if there is any possibility that I can comprehend what my children are doing, and if I could communicate, even if it was only by being able to blink¼and then I watched a family go through something similar, where the mom is kept alive on a feeding tube (reminiscent of Terry Shievo), and some ability to communicate feeling, but not verbally¼the kids go to see her each weekend in the nursing home; there are no more family vacations because mom will permanently  remain in the nursing home¼I don’t want my kids to have a life like this¼I would rather they let me go, and that my husband remarry, and they have a relatively “normal” life.).  Again, this is all in the hypothetical, and actually letting a loved one go is so very difficult¼the point is to think this through, and if you are inspired to do so, write down what “quality of life” means to you.  To others, it may mean to use whatever measures are available to sustain life, until the Lord takes them¼
    • How I want people to treat me:
      • I do not want to be in pain.  I want my doctor to give me enough medicine to relieve my pain, even if that means I will be drowsy or sleep more than I would otherwise
      • If I show signs of depression, nausea, shortness of breath, or hallucinations, I want my care givers to do whatever they can to help me
      • I wish to have a cool moist cloth put on my head if I have a fever
      • I want my lips and mouth kept moist to stop dryness
      • I wish to have warm baths often, I wish to be kept fresh and clean at all times
      • I wish to be massaged with warm oils or lotions as often as I can be (and so long as touching me is not painful or sensitive)
      • I wish to have my favorite music played when possible
      • I wish to have personal care like shaving, nail clipping, hair brushing, and teeth brushing, as long as they do not cause me pain or discomfort
      • I wish to have religious readings and well-loved poems read aloud  when I am near to death
      • I wish to have people with me when possible
      • I wish to have my hand held and to be talked to when possible, even if I don’t seem to respond to the voice or touch of others
      • I wish to have others by my side praying for me when possible
      • I wish to have members of my faith community told that I am sick and asked to pray for me and visit me
      • I wish to be cared for with kindness and cheerfulness, and not sadness
      • I wish to have pictures of my loved ones in my room, near my bed
      • I want to die in my home, if that can be done

      (The above borrowed from Five Wishes, Aging with Dignity)

    • The type of Memorial Service I want:
      • Where to hold the service
      • Should there be a party to celebrate my life
      • What type of food should be served/budget
      • Should there be music¼and what kind?  Specific songs?
      • Types of flowers
      • Why I am choosing to be cremated or buried
      • How I wish for others to remember me (for example, I want to be cremated because it is less expensive than burial¼and with the money saved, I would like my family to purchase a large boulder or two (because I have always loved rocks) and place them in a public park where children can climb on them¼and my own family can go there, to remember me¼)
      • overall budget