Almost Everyone Makes

By Laura A. Roser

Estate planning traditionally focuses on your financial assets. But when you think about what matters most, is it your car, home, or bank account? Of course not. The only reason those assets have any value is you’ve assigned meaning to them. You hope, for example, when you give money to your children, it will be used to improve their lives. Although this outcome can be difficult to direct.

What non-financial things matter most to you? What pieces of yourself do you want as a part of your heritage?

When you organize your will, trust, and other legal documents, don’t forget about your memories, values, traditions, and beliefs.

Your assets can be broken into three main categories:

  1. Character Assets: Your meaningful relationships, values, health, spirituality, heritage, purpose, life experiences, talents, and plans for giving.
  2. Intellectual Assets: Your business systems, alliances, ideas, skills, traditions, reputation, and wisdom.
  3. Financial Assets: Your physical wealth, investments, and possessions.

Financial assets are passed along through proper structuring — such as a trust or a foundation. These structures range from the simple to the complex, depending on your level of affluence and asset protection or tax planning goals. Rarely are your character and intellectual assets taken into account. Often, these assets are lost simply because there is not a structured way to identify them and pass them along.

Passing on non-financial assets is what my team and I specialize in. We’ve found that the process of structuring your character and intellectual assets to pass on to your heirs needs to be just as thought out as the process of passing on your financial assets.

Non-Financial Estate Planning Essentials

Our Meaning Legacy™ planning process focuses on seven essential components for passing on your non-financial assets to your loved ones. They are:

  • Beliefs, Values, and Vision: Your personal principles and shared family philosophy.
  • Master Stories: Experiences that have shaped your life.
  • Systems for Living: Skills and information your family needs to thrive.
  • Experiential Bonds: Planned family traditions, outings, and bonding activities.
  • Family Heritage: Where your family came from.
  • Community Impact: Your vision for giving back to the world.
  • Public Presence: How you are perceived by the public both off-line and online.

Whether you hire a firm to help you out or decide to document these components on your own, be sure your non-financial assets receive just as much attention as your financial ones. Your family will thank you.

In his book Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper, Barry K. Baines, MD wrote, “When my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1990, I asked him to write a letter about the things he valued. About a month before he died, my dad gave me two handwritten pages in which he spoke about the importance of being honest, getting a good education, helping people in need, and remaining loyal to the family. That letter — his ethical will — meant more to me than any material possession he could have bequeathed.”

I’ve heard many people say something similar. Whether it’s a letter from a loved one, an old journal, or a film, these memories, words of encouragement, and expressions of love — in the exact words of a respected family member — connect at such a deep level that they become a treasure to the family.

Becoming Aware

The following questions will give you an idea about what character and intellectual assets you should include as a part of your estate plan.

Assessing Your Current Status:

  1. Do you have photos, videos, letters, or other memorabilia that needs to be digitally archived, organized, and sent to family members?
  2. Do you know about your family tree and ancestors? Have you archived this information somewhere so your family can access it?
  3. Have you recorded your favorite memories, either via audio, video, or in writing?
  4. What tasks or skills does your family need to learn in order to pick up where you left off or live productive lives? (e.g. money management, household tasks, business systems, health guidelines, and so on.)
  5. Do you have a philanthropic vision? Have you gotten your family involved in charity work or giving to the community? How have you documented these activities?
  6. Do you have a family mission, a coat of arms, family rules, or other family systems you’d like to document?
  7. What kinds of experiences or traditions have you planned for your family? How do you plan to make them meaningful? How do you document them?
  8. When you google yourself, do you like what comes up? Are you interested in creating an online presence to encourage your family or convey a message (such as your support of a charity or to spread your love of gardening)? What kind of man or woman would you like to be publicly known as? In a world where privacy is disappearing, your online legend will become what you are known for to your friends and acquaintances as well as your family.

Once you’ve considered these questions, the next step is coming up with a plan to package up this information in a way that’s valuable to your family. Too much information can lead to a legacy of minutia. Filtering what gets passed on often becomes the most important part of the process.

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by Laura A. Roser
CEO and Founder of Paragon Road
#1 Expert in Meaning Legacy Planning