Estate planning generally focuses on two key elements. First, in the event of your mental incapacity, having an Advance Health Care Directive, a HIPAA Waiver, and other related health care documents will ensure that your wishes with regard to your health care and your personal comfort and well-being will be carried out by the person of your choice in accordance with your own specific guidelines. Second, in the event of your mental incapacity and upon your death, having a well-drafted revocable living trust, financial power of attorney, and other related documents will ensure that your monetary assets are managed by the person of your choice and distributed to your selected beneficiaries under any conditions that you provide.
While these two elements are crucial, there is a third element that is often overlooked: your legacy. After you pass away, how will you be remembered? What “life lessons,” observations, and values do you want future generations to understand and appreciate? What family history do you have stored in your mind that will be lost with your death if you don’t make a record of it? Indeed, these are your most valuable assets and yet traditional estate planning avoids addressing their preservation. An “ethical will” solves this problem.
Ethical wills are methods for families to transfer moral teachings and family history to future generations. Ethical wills are not legal documents but personal communications that can take many forms such as letters, notes, audio, video, and artwork.
My paternal grandparents left verbal ethical wills by constantly telling me their family history: growing up in the Czech Republic; surviving Hitler’s invasion; escaping the Communist party; journeying to the United States; beginning a new life in a new country. They also wrote memoirs that better preserve this family history as my recollection of their verbal stories fades over time.
It can be challenging to create your own ethical will. A few simple questions can help you get started:
1. What are five virtues that you value most in life?
2. What is your favorite place in the world? Why?
3. Who are your five favorite people? Why?
4. Who are your favorite artists?
5. How did you choose your profession?
6. If you could distribute $5,000 equally to five charities, what charities do you choose?
7. What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your parents or grandparents?
In addition, there are several companies that will work with you to develop your own ethical will by helping you identify important aspects of your family history and life lessons and transform them into an engaging narrative for your children and other loved ones.
Your legacy is much more than the accumulation of tangible items and bank accounts. Meaningful estate planning recognizes this reality by ensuring a legacy that will be treasured by your family for generations to come.
KRASA LAW, Inc. is located at 704-D Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove, California 93950 and Kyle may be reached at 831-920-0205.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information only. Reading this article does not establish an attorney/client relationship. Before taking any of the action presented in this article, you should consult a competent attorney who is licensed to practice law in your community.