Over time we have seen clients become consumed by the “what” of their estate plan. They lose sight of the bigger picture—their “why.” They may not realize it, but the “why” brought them into our firm in the first place. But in their haste to have a document produced, their “why” sometimes gets forgotten.
Caring estate planning attorneys will tell you that an estate plan should do more than document property distribution. It should tell a story. Not just any story—your story. By providing the “why” behind your estate plan, you give insight into your decisions. This can go a long way to mitigate potential fighting among beneficiaries.
In our practice, we encourage clients to have open and honest discussions with their families about their estate plans through a “letter of wishes.” In principle, this is a letter(s) or audio/video recording where one can share their rationale and wishes behind the decisions within a Will or Estate Plan.
Example of Points to Cover
- Express your beliefs and values. A letter of wishes presents an opportunity to share the ideals and values you hold dear. This isn’t meant to be your manifesto; rather, it means having that quiet conversation that you are no longer present to have.
- Express gratitude. It provides an intimate, heartfelt way to share exactly how you feel about a particular relationship. Often, this can become a cherished document that can bring closure and peace of mind to loved ones after you are gone.
- Explain decisions. No matter the time spent drafting a plan, someone usually feels left out; especially when not all assets are shared equally. This is your opportunity to explain your decisions, particularly those that are fair but not equal.
- Express intentions regarding legacy assets. Since your assets often have as much sentimental value as monetary worth, a letter can be a more effective way to convey the intent behind property distribution.
- Excerpts for your viewing. A novel approach to provide a virtual goodbye. A recorded video can convey your stories or random tidbits of your wisdom and thoughts. For example, I plan to show clips of me watching some of my favorite movie scenes. I want my loved ones to see me laugh and smile one last time. Maybe they will finally understand why I love Star Wars and Bruce Lee movies so much.
The point here is that an estate plan is a document drafted by a lawyer, whereas a letter of wishes is written by you. It is in your own words, perhaps even in your own handwriting. This document will be more therapeutic for you, the writer, then you can imagine. It will also go a long way in bringing your loved ones together after you are gone.