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Values Based Estate Planning

By Curt W. Ferguson

Death tax planning. Succession planning. Transfer planning. Estate planning. Legacy planning.

Are these all the same thing? They don’t have strict definitions. At The Estate Planning Center, we define estate planning to include “transferring your wisdom along with the rest of your wealth.” We believe your legacy is much more than your financial wealth, that your values—wisdom, faith, priorities, ethics—should form the foundation for your estate or legacy plan. To put a finer point on it, we think the wisdom in your ideas and values is the most significant “wealth” you have to convey to future generations…the most valuable “legacy” you are leaving.

I’ve been reading a devotional series from a book called GIVING IT ALL AWAY AND GETTING IT ALL BACK AGAIN by David Green and Bill High. They have some profound insight on the concept of legacy planning. Here are two of the readings from that devotional:

An Enduring Legacy

The questions are different at various stages of life. In our twenties we tend to ask, “Who will I marry and what will my career be?” In our thirties we start to ask, “How can I be established in my career, and how will my kids turn out?”

By the forties we start to ask, “Is this the job I really wanted, and why is life so hard? In our fifties, we start to look both backward and forward: “How has it turned out so far, and what will I do that’s significant in the next twenty-five years?”

By our sixties, we ask simpler questions like, “Will my health hold out, and when will I see my grandchildren?” By our seventies, we really start to look back and ask, “Was it all worth it, or will anyone remember?”

At age eighty, quite likely our possessions shine less brightly. On the other hand, the things that give us great joy are the intangibles:

•     A phone call from a friend

•     The touch of your spouse’s hand

•     A quiet walk observing God’s creation

•     The presence of your children

•     The laughter of your grandchildren

The funny thing about the questions of life is that the ones we ask at the end are the ones we should begin with. It is tough to craft a meaningful life without considering our end: What do we hope for, what do we dream for as it relates to our lives, our family, our children?

I hope that some of the questions that we put off–about our mortality, about our sense of meaning and success–we can begin to address right now. And that we’ll find we are not talking about endings but about enduring legacies.

Application: What does success look like to you? Will success look different when you are at the end of your life?

The Invisible Legacy

The legacies our generation hopes to pass on to the next generation are not made of money alone. Money is important, and we should be grateful we have enough to give to our children. Yet the greater part of our legacies is made of invisible things. They are the family stories we have to recount. They are the values those stories have to teach. They are the dreams and the labors and the times of God’s provision that have made something of value, not only material wealth but the values that are greater than money.

Invisible qualities, not money, make life worth living. Because of these qualities, we can build a legacy worth passing on. The characteristics my family passed to me are priceless. They molded me into the man I am today. Characteristics such as perseverance, loyalty, and grace are just a few examples of this invisible legacy.

Wealth can be an accumulation of money, but wealth also takes the form of resources, ideas, knowledge, wisdom, and so on. When you and I learn to identify legacy and wealth as more than money, our world opens up. We find that we have so much to steward, to care for.

If we pass only money to the next generation, we lay a crushing load upon them. An inheritance of greater value is the sum of how we live, what we believe, and the content of the dreams that carry us to success. This is what the next generation mostly needs from us, and what the next generation must prepare to hand off as well.

Application: How can one generation practically communicate its ideas and values to subsequent generations?

David and Bill pose some great questions. That last one we explore with our clients regularly. There are no pat answers, quick solutions, or easy formulae. But unless you are intentional about it much of your wisdom will be lost with you. Something to think about.


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