Our New York estate planning attorneys often help clients create “ethical wills.” An ethical will refers to a document left by an heir to pass along intangible assets like morals, lessons, and memories. Creating one of these wills is an important way to clarify the meaning of one’s life to family and friends, sharing gifts of the heart and mind.
Recently, a Time magazine article discussed how, following the recession, the importance of this ethical legacy planning was growing. While no one welcomes a difficult financial climate, some observers note that a positive side-effect is the growing importance of relationships, experiences, and memories for many families. The article author notes:
“Born out of national need, this national (if not global) rethinking of what is most important has had remarkable staying power, even as the economy has started to improve.”
Notice of this “rethinking” comes amid survey results which indicate many Baby Boomers are changing what they consider to be the most important part of their legacy. A recent “Allianze Life” study found that 86% of respondents listed “family stories” as the most important part of what they are leaving behind. This was far ahead of things like material possessions or financial inheritances.
Of course, the estate planning lawyers at our firm appreciate that many local residents will still leave inheritances to children and other loved ones. However, there may be a shift in consciousness after many residents have watched their nest egg dwindle. More adult children recognize that they are less likely to receive a large inheritance. In fact, the same survey found that less than 5% of adult children thought it was their parents “duty” to leave an inheritance.
What does all of this mean for New York estate plans?
Just because material inheritances might be smaller does not mean that steps do not still need to be taken to ensure financial and physical assets are properly planned for. Yet, it is increasingly important to conduct planning that also accounts for intangible items, like life lessons, family stories, memories, and advice.
When conducting your elder law estate planning, it is important for your legal professional to share information on ways to preserve these intangible assets, often via creation of an ethical will. This might include writing down those lessons to be passed down and taking time to clearly talk about these issues with the most important people in your life. This process may also include creating special photo scrapbooks or video libraries. Family poems, stories, or mementos can also be collected and preserved to easily pass on to future generations.
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