Of course, a legacy includes your stories and memories, but to most people, passing on your legacy entails writing your will.
Take a moment to think about why you do all the family research, record oral histories, and tell stories.. My guess is that it’s love that drives you to connect through with loved ones. To somehow touch the lives of future family members. To comfort your offspring.
Those are the same reasons writing your will should be a priority. Estate planning can provide your loved ones peace of mind.
I’m not exactly an authority on will-writing. For legal edification, check out 4 Reasons Estate Planning is So Important.
However, to bring things home, I’ll tell you a story
How My Parents’ Estate Planning Made Things Easier for My Sister and Me
My parents did almost everything right. Not only did they use a respected attorney (the trusted son of old friends) to plan out their affairs, they did it well in advance of ill-health. A+
They ran a draft of their will by my sister and me. Since my sister is a lawyer, that was the logical move. By including me, they made sure no one had any reservations. A+
So, when the coroner’s office knocked on my sister’s door at 1 AM one night to deliver their news, my sister had one small comfort. There was a mechanism in place to deal with our parents’ simultaneous deaths. That’s was no small thing. As an attorney she knew the red tape an estate without a will generates in probate court.
The only red mark on my parents’ estate planning report card came when we started looking for their wills. We tried their file cabinets and every stack of papers or binders in the house. No luck.
Their safe deposit box yielded a will. (South Carolina law allows banks to open boxes to search for a will.) It had been signed months before my birth. However, it made no mention of a second child. It wasn’t the will. F-
Luckily, their lawyer was able to provide a copy.
The Aftermath of a Sudden Death
I’m not going to pretend that estate planning and will writing will make the aftermath of a sudden death easy for your offspring. Dealing with a loved one’s estate (that’s what they call it, even if the value is $0) is fraught with emotion and frustration.
Not to put too fine (or melodramatic) point on it, but the minutiae of death can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.
In the first few days after their deaths, I was dealing with tissue donation, how to get bodies from Alaska to South Carolina, informing family and friends, a church with broken air conditioning, and banks and credit card companies. For instance, the credit card company which offered rental car insurance insisted that they’d refuse to honor that insurance without a death certificate in hand within thirty days, even if the state didn’t issue it within that time. I was ready to pull my hair out. And scream. And to be fair here, I have to say the tax authorities were a lot better than banks and credit cards companies. (See Writing Prompt: Things I Never Wanted to Know for more details.)
My point is that will writing and estate planning can ease the emotional fallout of your deaths for your loved ones. Of course, there are also solid financial and legal incentives to visit an estate lawyer. The money you spend up front in legal fees are more than offset in the end.
Note to Family Historians
As Marian Wood of Climbing my Family Tree points out, it’s important to make sure your family knows who will safeguard your genealogy files and research. You certainly don’t want your work to end up in a dumpster! She suggests, “If nobody is interested, the will can suggest repositories (historical societies, etc) that might be interested.”
Leaving a legacy can be hard. It may require taking an honest look at family dynamics. Passing down hard-to-tell stories. Revealing your more vulnerable side. Looking back at the family history and not loving everything you find.
Channel the love that drives you to do those things and make sure you write a will. Let family members know where it is. And please, don’t leave those estate planning binders from the attorney on the couch in the basement. And it you do leave them there, don’t cover them with artificial Christmas tree branches.