Saturday, June 26, 2010

Leaving a Legacy

I like to define estate planning as giving what you want, to whom you want, the way you want, how you want, and at the lowest possible cost. That definition has always made a lot of sense to me. But, that definition is really focused on estate planning as a process. What makes even more sense is to think of how one's estate plan can add value to others. The joy of giving is difficult for many to grasp. But, when one gives something of value that reflects a donor's hopes, dreams and goals there is demonstrable benefit to the donor. It is, I believe, an universal law of nature. When you gives some thing away of value, there is a benefit that comes back to the donor. It may not be economic; but, there is joy in helping others to achieve a goal. That joy is brought about by leaving a legacy. A legacy is a benefit that survives the donor. It comes from the realization that we enter this world with nothing and when we die, we can't take it with us. So what does one do with the accumulation of wealth? This has nothing to do with the quantity of wealth; but, everything to do with the quality of one's estate plan.

If someone fails to do any planning at all, the State determines who will benefit. This is called the law of Intestate Succession. For example, in Missouri if someone dies while they are married with children, the spouse will receive the first $20,000 of assets. The balance is then divided between the spouse and the children. If a single person dies without descendants, the estate passes in equal shares between the mother, father, brothers and sisters. Many times when people discover this, they will say, "That is not what I want!" This is why it is important for every person, regardless of the size of one's estate, to create an estate plan long before the need arises.

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