In the June 2015 edition of Money Magazine, there is an article about how to pass on not only your valuables to your heirs (traditional estate planning) but also your values. The journalist, Jackie Zimmermann, interviewed me while she was writing the article and included a number of my thoughts as well as a quote.
The first topic I discussed with her was how to figure out what is important to you and therefore which values you might want to pass on. During the past year and a half I have spent a lot of time learning and training in the practice of financial life planning. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, financial life planning is an approach to financial planning with the premise that your finances should be designed to support your life goals rather than building your life around your money. Approaching financial planning through this lens has had an enormous impact on my own life decisions, and I have had the privilege to witness some of the inspirational changes in the lives of a number of my clients too. One of the things I have learned is that our goals often fall into three different buckets:
- Heart’s Core—things you must do for your life to have meaning
- Ought To—areas where you feel an obligation or sense of responsibility
- Fun To—things you would like, but do not have the same sense of passion as “Heart’s Core"
One of the exercises that is now a part of my financial planning process is helping clients organize their goals into these buckets and considering not only things they would like to have, but also what they would like to do and who they would like to be. In addition to a more focused financial plan, most clients also walk away with a deeper understanding of what is really important to them, their values. When I shared this with the journalist she thought it was the perfect starting point for people to figure out how to approach the softer side of legacy (estate) planning and devoted an entire section of the article to it.
Another topic we discussed was how to make sure gifts actually have a positive impact on the recipient. It can be tempting to place conditions on gifts in an effort to encourage certain behavior and values, but I cautioned that the giver should tread lightly as it can backfire if it leads to feelings of manipulation or resentment. Instead of attaching strings to a monetary gift in an effort to enforce certain behavior, I believe the best way to pass on values is by modeling the way and having open conversations with the beneficiaries. Live the type of life you want your heirs adopt and include them in your life so they can see why it is important and be inspired to do something similar in their own lives.
In my own family, my grandparents have inspired an unprecedented sense of family unity and togetherness by hosting family get-togethers twice a year since I was a child. Everyone (four generations now) is invited and attendance is very high simply because we all want to see each other and have so much fun together. The relationships I have built with my grandparents, as well as my aunts, uncles, and cousins are stronger than any other extended family I know, especially considering we are spread throughout the country. I attribute this to the strong values and adept foresight of my grandparents and suspect these extended family relationships will continue and perpetuate down our own family branches for generations to come. Without a doubt, this is the best gift they have given to all of us.
If you are interested in reading the article, it’s on page 40 of the June 2015 edition of Money Magazine. If you are interested in discussing your own legacy planning or financial life planning, whether you are an existing client or not, contact me. I would welcome the opportunity to explore this with you.