When most people think of estate planning they immediately think about whom they are going to leave their assets. This is definitely an important component of estate planning, however I believe that if we only focus on who is going to get what, then we are actually cutting corners and leaving the picture unfinished. It would be as if Monet only painted one-half of a painting; we do not know what he had in mind for the other half so we have to imagine what he might have been thinking.

     To continue the artist metaphor, I consider the act of Estate Planning like taking a great photograph or creating a beautiful painting. And because each family is unique, no two Estate Plans will look alike. When a photographer takes a picture they incorporate at least two, and sometimes three, important components: The background, the foreground, and sometimes a border. As the client, you are the artist; you are creating a one of a kind masterpiece that will impact future generations.

     In Estate Planning, the background consists of the values, foundational beliefs and guidance you want to give your beneficiaries. The foreground are the assets you are leaving, and the border are the instructions or parameters, if any, that you want to give your beneficiaries about the assets you are leaving to them. Together, these components create a masterpiece that is completely unique to you and your family.

     Legacy planning is the background; it is process communicating to your beneficiaries the values and foundations you want them to be aware of as they use the inheritance you are leaving them. It is transferring your values and not just your valuables. It is what gives meaning and definition to the assets (foreground) that you are leaving to your beneficiaries. Without the background, the assets do not mean as much. So, how do you do this? There are actually two ways to accomplish this: one is verbal, and one is written.

     Our process includes a family care consultation. This is the opportunity for you to share verbally, why you have created your Estate Plan as you did. You can share with your children and beneficiaries some of the purposes behind your plan and they can hear from you regarding your desires.

     Second, if you choose to do so, you have the opportunity to write a Family Philosophy of a Family Vision Statement. This is a letter that will be included with your estate plan and cherished for generations. In the letter you share your story of your family’s legacy and history.

     For example, you may wish to include things such as:

  1. Who were your parents and what were they like?
  2. What was life like for you as a child and young adult and what did you learn from your parents?
  3. How did you and your spouse meet?
  4. What were the early years like for you and your spouse?
  5. What are some of your cherished memories with your family and children?

     In this letter, you can provide some words of wisdom, encouragement, and guidance such as:

  1. What do you want your children to know about marriage and family?
  2. What are your thoughts about education and work?
  3. What do you want to share about your faith and church?

     In reality, the canvas is blank and you can draw on it what you wish.