Live Well, Leave Well.

Older generation handing golden key to future generation

How do you want to be remembered? As someone who left behind chaos, or left a legacy? 

This post is a follow up to Planning for Mortality (my last blog post on Give and Take).

What’s the secret to living a peaceful life? Unfortunately, I don’t know the be-all, end-all answer to that one. 

But I do know that getting your affairs in order and planning for the future reduces stress. And any doctor, guru, or self-help maven will tell you that reducing stress is one of the keys to living peacefully. Who knows? With less stress and a will in place, maybe you’ll live longer. (I’m not a doctor, but my dad was. And he told me that stress is a bigger killer than smoking cigarettes.) 

It stands to reason, then, that preparing an estate plan is a waypoint on the road to a more peaceful life. But it’s also the best way to ensure you leave gracefully. 

Don’t believe us? Consider this, then: How do you want to be remembered by your personal friends, your immediate or extended family, your community – whether that’s your neighbors, your work colleagues, or even your Facebook friends? How about when someone looks up your name on Ancestry.com someday? Do you just want dates there, or something more meaningful? Should they be thinking of … the ways in which you provided for your loved ones and the causes and principles you supported, or the financial and emotional wreckage you left behind because you didn’t have a will?

I Speak from Experience

That’s tough talk, but it’s not hyperbole. I speak from experience. When I approached my father about whether he had an estate plan in place to take care of Mom, he said, “Viken, relax. We don’t need to worry about that yet.”

As you may have read earlier my father died without ever making a will. I would have done anything for my dad, but I’m sure he didn’t want me (at least I hope it wasn’t his plan) to spend long hours and a small fortune and collect many a gray hair getting his affairs settled through probate court. So, while he apparently never worried about an estate plan, his lack of planning caused my mother and me a ton of worry. Our memories of him are clouded by the experience; we look back and wonder, “Why didn’t he care enough to take care of those simple details?” 

Contrast that with my friend’s father. When this man died, the family knew just where to look to find the sealed envelope that held a copy of his will. Along with it were his instructions, all his account passwords, and a final message. 

When his widow and children talk about my friend’s father now, it sounds like something from a Hallmark movie. “We just got a thank-you card from the university,” my friend told me once. “My dad left them his entire 401k for their environmental science program. Now he’s got a lab and a scholarship named after him. Pop was always passionate about science education, but this … this is something really special.”

That’s leaving well. That’s creating a legacy, not a mess. 

That’s the easiest way to rest in peace — before and after you exit.

Points to Ponder

What’s your legacy going to be? Stop for a few moments to consider the question. If you don’t like the answer, are there a few steps you can take now to change it?

Have you ever thought of writing your own story? Someday, if someone comes across your name, what do you want them to know – just your birth and death dates? You’d be surprised how much your descendants will appreciate even the basics, like where you lived, what you had fun doing, and what you did for a living. It doesn’t have to be a 300-page tome. Just make some notes.

The future is going to be a different place than the time in which we live now. While it would be interesting to see, I’m not sure I’d want to live there. What are your dreams for the future of your family, your town, or your country? What do you think will happen?

If you wish you could have read all this from one of your ancestors, then maybe it’s time to write your version today.

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