Was This the Legacy You Intended?

Estate Planning legacy planning Preparation Tax Planning

The first thing you should know about me is that I’m not a fear monger. That may be surprising given my involvement with legacy planning, which is related to fear because the association with death. The simple reason why I don’t subscribe to fear-based motivation is because it’s not effective, at least not long term, and it certainly isn’t constructive.

I subscribe to the abundance philosophy of life. Legacy planning is an act of love and abundance thinking. We all create a legacy whether intentional or not. When we do so intentionally and purposefully, it allows our future generations to stand on our shoulders and not rely on learning life lessons from scratch. Our family members can then learn from our mistakes, as well as their own. This lets us to pass on not only experiences but the accompanying wisdom while also creating a values thread through time and generations.

My role as a professional in these realms is to relieve anxiety not enhance it. But I’ll admit that it’s no easy task to move people to change, especially when that change is one that highlights their own mortality. People as a whole don’t want to face the thought that they have a finite amount of time on this earth, so they bury their heads in the sand instead of taking action. Forbes writer Richard Eisenberg calls it the ostrich approach.

It’s understandable behavior. Death is an emotional topic and the vast majority prefer not to think about it. I’m among them. But that strategy only works until something unplanned happens. The problem (and blessing) with life is that it’s unplanned by nature. Over the course of your life, how many events have unfolded exactly the way you intended? Unplanned occurrences aren’t always bad, but they show us time and again that life is unpredictable. They remind us that life calls the shots.

That’s where we as risk mitigators come in. Whether that risk mitigation takes the form of purchasing life insurance, creating a will, planning a legacy, carving a financial path, the goal is always to protect families and their loved ones. These actions offer a way to manage unknowns and give people back some semblance of control. Anything can still happen, of course, but at least they have a plan if it does.

It’s my mission to make sure as many people as possible are prepared for the unexpected. After all, these products and services we represent are only as good as the number of people they can protect. So I dedicate a lot of time and energy to education on these topics, but recent figures tell me there’s a long way to go. According to a 2014 survey, 51% of Americans age 55 to 64 don’t have wills. It gets worse: 62% of those age 45 to 54 — and 67% of women that age — haven’t drafted wills. What troubles me most about this statistic is thinking about how many of those 62% are parents.

Most of these parents have an unwritten will in their minds. They know who they’d want to care for their children; they know where the money needs to go to make that happen. Even if children aren’t in the picture, there is still a lot to consider. What about pets? A plan needs to be made for them just the same, as many people consider their pets to be their children. And they’ll need to think about how they’d want assets distributed among their family and/or friends. Perhaps they’d rather leave everything they have to charity. No one will know if a will or trust isn’t in place to explicitly state these wishes.

To get over the fear hump – acknowledging morality — I suggest you start by having clients take inventory.

  • Tell them not to think about it in terms of a legacy – just to start making a list. They’re simply taking stock of their assets, personal and financial, which is part of asset management best practices anyway.
  • For those who do have wills, it may be time to update them. The unfortunate fact is that an out-of-date will is just as bad as or worse than not having one because as life changes, beneficiary choices change. A client who’s divorced certainly wouldn’t want his or her death benefit going to an ex-spouse.
  • After they’ve pulled together all that information, they may be ready to take the next step and recognize their assets for what they are: their legacy. At this point, they’ll need a way to stay organized, up to date and make this material assessable to select people, like an accountant, a financial advisor and certainly heirs. LegacyShield can help achieve all that and more within a secure environment.

The reason it’s so important to make will creation and maintenance a priority is because if people don’t take action, the government takes action for them. That means probate court and subjecting loved ones to an emotionally and financially draining process during an already devastating time. It can be months or years before a decision is made. The great hope in these situations is that the government makes the right decision and the legislation does what it’s designed to do. I don’t have to tell you that that is more of a hope than a reality, especially where blended families are concerned.

If you’re a financial advisor or insurance agent, use today as a fresh opportunity to remind clients about the importance of protecting their families.

For everyone else, today is a time to reflect on what matters most and make sure you create (or update) a plan that reflects the legacy you truly want.

Learn more about how to protect your legacy at LegacyShield.

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