Most people know estate planning can help you pass along your material wealth, but what about your intangible wealth like your wisdom, values, and life experiences? Studies show that intangible wealth is valued by heirs even more highly than tangible wealth. It is also the wealth that lasts the longest, and the wealth that’s lost forever if care isn’t taken to preserve and pass it along.
Don’t get me wrong. The money’s important. But focusing on the money alone squanders an incredible opportunity during the estate planning process to account for the most important part of your wealth – the human capital you’ve accumulated during your life. With that in mind, here are five things which should be included in every comprehensive estate plan, but often aren’t:
- Your rich life story
You may think it’s all been said before, but this is the perfect time to schedule or conduct recording sessions about your own personal life narrative. These recordings will be treasured while you’re still here and long after you’re gone, too. It doesn’t have to be scripted or scary. You can just talk about particularly fond memories, knowing you’re creating a time capsule of sorts that will contain the uniqueness of your personality and the experiences that shaped you into the person you are today. And perhaps most importantly, this gives you the opportunity to share the valuable lessons you’ve learned from those experiences. Your family will be better for it.
- How you’d like to be honored
Estate planning involves considering some weighty decisions when it comes to long-term care, powers of attorney, and other situations that may arise should you become mentally incapacitated. Although these are not the sunniest of topics, it’s important to express to your family why you feel most aligned with the choices you’re making. This will ease the processes for your loved ones, should these things ever come to pass. And once you get this part of the conversation out of the way, there are better things to come.
- Your family tree
Your family might be curious about more than just your own life story. Take this time to go over your family tree and inform the younger members of your family about the details of your heritage. Getting a who’s who on paper and/or in a digital format is an excellent gift to your heirs, as they’ll be able to reference it and build upon it throughout their own lives.
- Significant heirlooms
Every family has heirlooms, and every piece tells a story. It’s common for estate plans to contain physical objects that matter dearly to their owners, such as furniture, garments, jewelry, hobby collections, and memorabilia. Keeping the story of the object alive is more important than transferring its monetary value to the next generation. So rather than just document who gets what, I encourage my clients to take a picture of each heirloom and then write about why that item means so much to them, and why they want to give it to the particular beneficiary they have chosen to receive it.
- Your core values
Your estate plan can be customized to include specific language (such as a family mission statement) that carries your values along with it while still leaving room for your beneficiaries to grow and explore on their own terms. Educational, incentive, and charitable trusts are other great tools available to you to express your values through your estate plan.
You know there’s much more to you than the material wealth you’ve accumulated during your life. As such, your estate plan should be about much more than just your financial worth. After all, what’s passed down from generation to generation amounts to something far greater than numbers on paper.
Don’t be afraid to insist that your estate plan includes a balanced representation of who you are and what you believe. And make sure you choose an attorney who isn’t only focused on your financial assets, but who wants to help weave your “whole wealth” into your trust and other critical documents so that the legacy you’ve built will mean something to your family for generations to come.
Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and securing your legacy,