“All the World’s a Stage” is a famous line from As You Like It, one of Shakespeare’s brightest comedies. The world’s a stage and we’re all actors making our entrances and exits. And so — how do we want to play our roles, especially our last scenes, the ones that often stay in the audience’s mind?
Most times we play the large role of father/mother, daughter/son, husband/wife, very close friend. And since we play these roles among people we care about, we should take the time to consider the lasting influence we will have on their lives. We need to consider the legacy we will be leaving behind, the role we will be playing when we are no longer here.
Though planning for a world we will no longer inhabit is a bit creepy, we need to give it some real thought. What do we want to leave for our families? Do we want to make one final tithing at church? Do we want to give more to the charity we’ve come to care so much about?
Legacy planning is a necessary evil. It’s the curtain call we make after we’ve completed our scenes on stage. Here are a few questions we should consider:
1. What do I want to leave to my family?
When deciding what we want to leave behind, and to whom, we often become very sentimental: My sister Judy will want that pin that was so dear to our Mom. Or: My daughter will certainly want my wedding ring. Or: I want to keep the house where the kids grew up so they can still enjoy it when I’m gone. But after decades of working with clients and their families, we can tell you that, most of the time, your survivors will not cherish your possessions the way you expect them to. They will cherish their memories of you, of course, but they will also want to carry on with the lives they have chosen for themselves. Your girls won’t have any use (or space) for your fancy China, and your boys won’t prize your beloved but next-to-worthless baseball card collection the way he did. The generations nearly always see things through different lenses.
The thing to consider most carefully is what to do with your home. We hear time and again that parents want to leave their houses to their adult children. However, after the parents have left the stage, the biggest point of disagreement among the heirs is almost always the house. How to handle or dispose of it and all its possessions is nearly always a major point of contention, studded with countless recriminations. Someone will have to clean out the place, upgrade it, then, depending on the market, sell it or rent it out. Who should take on these responsibilities? Who gets a say in major decisions and who doesn’t? A house as a legacy is often a major hurdle for the survivors, one that leaves everyone scared and the legator’s memory tarnished.
Make sure to talk seriously with your family and find out what everyone wants you to do about your house, maybe even have a semi-formal meeting so all family members can get on the same page. If you are itching to move to Florida and live in a planned community, that would be the ideal time for a serious, in-depth discussion with everyone concerned. The consensus might be to sell.
2. When do I want the distribution(s) to my family members or beloved organization to take place?
Another question is whether you want to set milestones for your distributions. Perhaps you want to make sure your granddaughter finishes college before she gets her full inheritance. Or you want your church to use your money to support a certain event. This is your last chance to express your wishes in a tangible way. Use this option wisely and judiciously and you can influence future events, even if those involved might be a bit resentful at times about your loving and (hopefully) positive guidance.
3. Have I made it easy for my next of kin to take care of my after-death arrangements?
The months after you pass will be hard ones for your survivors. They will be dealing with your accounts, mortgages, and investments, notifying any and all interested parties (including Social Security, insurance companies, pension plans, service providers, subscription departments, credit card companies, etc.), and dealing with countless old friends and well-wishers. On top of this, they must decide how to memorialize you. Would you prefer a funeral or a memorial service or both? Would you want to be buried or cremated? How is everything to be arranged and paid for?
Having had an open discussion with your family will help, of course, but it is also best to have things written down and the necessary funds available to cover expenses. Financial stress is always difficult and combining it with the stresses of losing a loved one can cause a good deal of strife in the surviving family.
There are many more questions to ask yourself, of course, but if you take the time to just have small conversations with your family members over time, you will find that this kind of planning doesn’t have to be painful or even depressing. You can make your wishes known to the people you love during casual chats. You can learn from them, too, and explain your reasons for making certain decisions. And you can let them know you will always care about them.
We at One Vision Retirement are always here for you or anyone else who might be struggling with some of these choices and decisions. We can provide resources and guidance to help you deal with these realities — realities that are often ignored or avoided.
Remember: you are the main character in the play that is your life. What will your final scenes be like?