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If you are putting together an estate plan, you may not have also thought to take the time to leave behind something that documents the legacy you leave behind in terms of your values and your family’s traditions and history.

These stories and values behind your wealth can have a tremendous impact on your heirs, and better context to the wealth that is being handed down. It can help inform them about the lessons learned along the way, clarify reasons behind your estate planning decisions and help them think about how to be good stewards of this family legacy for future generations.

I often suggest a video or a letter. Or on this page you can also download the workbook I often use with clients to get the process started.

The format and the content will vary for each family, of course. You can include old pictures, speak of family legends and reinforce fading memories. Perhaps not all the information they receive is going to be positive. They will, and perhaps should, hear about the mistakes that were made as well as the moments of triumph.

In the case of a video, whether it’s a short 10-15 minute message or a longer, full legacy story, it’s a chance to present how you wish to be remembered. Film it in a comfortable setting that stirs happy memories, such as a den or a family business or a beach house. And again, the video will be treasured, so do it immediately. Better to do it when people are healthy and there’s energy in the room, and there is more fun to be had together. It can be prepared in an unrushed, careful way, and with more thought.

You don’t have to be entirely prescriptive in your advice, the next generation will find its own way. But your input can be valuable when it comes to the little things.

Say there is a family business the next generation will take over. They probably know the books and the industry, but do they understand the philosophy under which the company was founded? The history with certain clients? The relationships with employees? The roads deliberately not taken? The mistakes that mustn’t be repeated?

Likewise, support for a cancer hospital or an opera company, say, needn’t be complicated, but there may be a special connection or history that can better explain why one institution was supported over its peers. Likewise, because a certain cause was supported for years doesn’t mean that loyalty is unbending. Often the support is as much about relationships as the cause, and certain changes in management or philosophy could weaken or undermine that loyalty. If heirs are expected to manage continued support, not only should the contingencies be made clear, but the philosophy behind them. Here your wisdom can guide them through issues that are rarely black and white.

And creating these legacy messages provides opportunities for introspection. Take the opportunity to perform an audit both of your finances and of your life’s infrastructure. It’s a chance to find and address the little imperfections you’d hate to pass along. And you know you still have time to get it right.

As a financial advisor, one of the things we provide is the access to the right documents, account numbers, information about insurance plans and all of the rest of the details when the time comes. Your heirs will be grateful in their grief for all of these details being in place.

But imagine their surprise to find a final letter or video message from you, giving them one great last bit of warm advice and context for what you are handing down. That would really be something.

If you would like help getting started in this process, download my free workbook, which I use as the basis for beginning these discussions with my own clients.

Jim Sprout

Northern Colorado Chairman

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