A Vocabulary Lesson Reveals an Estate Planning Truth

My four-year-old son, Jonah, inherited my love for ice hockey.  While we patiently wait for a hero or heroine to build an ice rink on the Monterey Peninsula, we must travel weekly to Sharks Ice in San Jose (our closest ice rink) for my son’s skating lessons.  While my wife sometimes joins us, it’s often a father/son outing.  I listen to Gwen Stefani while I drive and Jonah plays his iPad while riding in the backseat.  We have been doing this for over two years now and Jonah is so addicted to the sport that I realized I signed myself up to at least 14 more years of these weekly excursions.

Last year, when Jonah was three-years-old, we were making our weekly drive up to San Jose.  I noticed a beautiful rainbow.  I told Jonah to take a break from his iPad and admire the incredible sight.  He was focused on the screen.  He replied: “No thanks.  I’ll look at it on the way back home.”  As an English major, I always seek opportunities to give Jonah vocabulary lessons.  Here was a golden opportunity.  

I said to him: “Jonah, I’m going to teach you a new word – a very important word I learned from my favorite teacher, Professor Christina Root: ephemeral.  Say it: ephemeral.”  He repeated it in a mumbled way.  I told him: “Ephemeral means something that comes and goes.  A rainbow is ephemeral.  It’s here now but it will only be here for a short time.  It will not be here when we drive back from the rink later this afternoon.  You should therefore look at and admire the rainbow now.”  He relented, pulled himself away from his iPad, admired the rainbow, and returned to the screen.  I wondered whether he fully understood the new vocabulary word and whether he would remember.  I found my answer the next day.

Jonah used to receive a hand-stamp for a job well-done after his ice skating lessons.  The day after the rainbow episode I asked to see his stamp.  He looked at his hand and discovered that the stamp had washed away.  He said: “It’s not here anymore, Dada.  It’s ephemeral!”  Of course I was incredibly proud of my brilliant son.  Not only did he learn a new vocabulary word with superb comprehension, but he also internalized a very important concept: the fact that nothing lasts forever.

We often take for granted the fact that we have the basic civil right to make personal decisions for ourselves such as where we will live, with whom we will associate, what kind of health care we will receive, what kind of environment in which we will surround ourselves, and how we will occupy our time.  We often take for granted the fact that we have the basic civil right to make financial decisions for ourselves such as how we’re going to make our money, how we’re going to invest our money, how we’re going to spend our money, whether and to what extent we will make gifts, and whether and to what extent we will express our values or political beliefs through donations or contributions.  As long as we are living and have mental capacity, we are able to make these decisions for ourselves.  But what happens when we no longer have mental capacity or when we pass away?  How do we maintain control in an ephemeral world?

Estate planning is an acknowledgement of the ephemeral nature of the universe.  It’s a realization that our lives – and in fact the whole world – are like that rainbow.  It’s an effort to maintain a degree of control over these important decisions when we are no longer able to be directly in charge ourselves.  Estate planning allows us to create a legally recognizable and enforceable plan that states how these decisions should be made and designates individuals of our choice with the authority and duty to carry out these decisions on our behalves.  

Estate Planning also allows us to extend the life of our rainbow a little bit longer by creating a mechanism to pass financial security, values, traditions, passions, and nostalgia to the next generation.  

While I hope my formal estate planning doesn’t have to go into effect for a long time, I’ll continue my “informal estate planning” with more vocabulary lessons, more trips to the rink, and more shared experiences – all the while passing part of me to the next generation and stretching the ephemeral nature of my existence a little further.  

“My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.”  – William Wordsworth (1802)

KRASA LAW is located at 704-D Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove, California and Kyle may be reached at 831-920-0205831-920-0205.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information only.  Reading this article does not establish an attorney / client relationship.  Before acting on any of the information provided in this article, you should consult with a competent attorney who is licensed to practice law in your community.