By Glenda Summers, CFP®
“Getting Your House in Order” – We often associate this with something that only sick or dying people should do. “We are in great shape – what’s the need?” or “We will do this later when we get old,” are thoughts many have when they hear this phrase. But what if we took a different approach? What if reviewing this question became an on-going part of our planning for the rest of our lives? At Lucien, Stirling & Gray, we believe thoughtful planning – even for young healthy people – is one of the hallmarks of a successful happy life. And why not start with the end in mind?
Rather than talking about wills, medical power of attorney, insurance policies, or other legal documents, let’s focus instead on the emotional aspects of planning – and some of the insightful questions we ought to ask ourselves. What do we really want for ourselves and our families? How would we most like to be remembered? What important values do we want to communicate in the way we live our lives? What kind of legacy do we hope to leave our children and grandchildren? And what ought we to be doing now, and for many years to come, in order to insure those outcomes? These are some of the questions you may be answering throughout your planning process.
Leaving Your Legacy
One of the nicest, most thoughtful gifts I ever received was from my older sister. Before my mother died, my sister interviewed my mother. She asked her many questions, documented her answers, and then gave my siblings and me a bound copy as a Christmas gift. I found out many things about my mother, father, and grandmother that I never knew! For example, in high school my mother tutored the basketball team in geometry so they could pass and graduate. I’d have never known this if my sister hadn’t invested the time to help capture her stories, and it changed the way I viewed my mom.
In our November newsletter, we mentioned The StoryCorps App. The app provides prompts for conducting an interview of a loved one, and by using only your phone you can save and share an oral record of stories and memories. Whether you choose to write the information down and bind it, use the oral method, or do both, it is such a treasure to have memories like these to pass down.
One of my clients shared with me that he had written a short history of many of the unique and valuable items in his house. He then placed this information in a clear plastic cover and taped it to the bottom of each item so his heirs would know their history, significance and value – information that otherwise could have been time-consuming and costly to research, or personally significant anecdotes that would have been lost to the family forever. What a gift!
Choosing What You Want for Yourself
Another important issue concerns your health. If you become ill and need assistance, what kind of care do you want? Who do you want to make these decisions, or to be your heath care agent? Left unanswered, the tough decisions surrounding these questions are left to someone with little direction. By sharing your wishes now, you can alleviate stress for both you and your loved ones in the long-run.
Have you talked to your family and kids about the type of funeral you’d like? What songs, readings, lessons or music would be important to you? Would you want a meal after the ceremony, or a party? (I vote for a party). Planning for your absence may seem like a gloomy (or even pointless!) task, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I will always remember the “Celebration of Life Party” I attended many years ago for a friend. After the funeral service at my church, we were all invited to a restaurant on Lady Bird Lake. Mariachis were playing and the libations were flowing – it was certainly a celebration! My friend had set aside money in an account specifically to pay for this party – and that decision left a lasting impression on all who attended. I asked another friend about what she wanted at her funeral, and she said “I don’t want anyone to wear black. I want them to wear my favorite color- green. It is the sign of Spring and it makes me feel happy!” What a great, but simple, idea that truly honors you.
Lastly, do you wish be cremated and have your ashes scattered, or do you wish to be buried in a cemetery and have a nice headstone? I have a number of clients who’ve told me that it’s very satisfying to make these decisions ahead of time. Be sure that the appropriate people know about your wishes and decisions, and always thoroughly document your plans.
Taking the First Step
As mentioned before, wills, medical power of attorney, and insurance policies are all important documents that play a role in getting your house in order. Because making arrangements for these legal documents may be overwhelming, the emotional planning can sometimes fall to the wayside. Leaving a legacy and choosing how you wish to be remembered and honored can start with a thoughtful conversation with your family or by downloading an app and sharing a story from your childhood.
We can help you navigate this emotional planning process. The fact is your legacy is far more than just your financial wealth. Planned well over a lifetime, that legacy will include all kinds of stories, traditions, important keepsakes, thoughtful connections and cherished memories. Thoughtfully planning transitions, even down to the emotionally-charged details, is a way that we have helped clients in the past and it is certainly a way we can help you, too.