On the first of every month I will post an article to my Blog that highlights topics or circumstances that arise most often when visiting with my clients or that give me an opportunity to add perspective in a real life context. These articles are intended to help readers understand some of the subtleties and pitfalls of estate planning as I combine them with my philosophy of Generational Planning Systems. I welcome your feedback and questions through private correspondence - please use the "Contact Us" page or call me so we can discuss setting your plan in action. Or as a reader, if there is a topic that you would like addressed in this format, let me know and I will consider it for a later date.
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Every once in a while, Congress gets things right, as they did in 2008 by declaring National Estate Planning Awareness Week, October 19– 25, 2015. This is another great way to honor my father, who would be celebrating his 94th birthday on October 19th. It is estimated that 56% of Americans do not have any form of estate plan or critical decision-making documents in place, such as a Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, HIPAA Authorization, Directive to Physicians, or Guardian for Minor Children. BE AWARE – BE INFORMED.
September 27, 2008.
Whereas it is estimated that over 120,000,000 Americans do not have up-to-date estate plans to protect themselves or their families in the event of sickness, accidents, or untimely death;
Whereas a 2004 Roper poll commissioned by the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants found that two-thirds of Americans over age 65 believe they lack the knowledge necessary to adequately plan for retirement, and nearly one half of all Americans are unfamiliar with basic retirement tools, such as a 401(k) plan;
Whereas careful estate planning can greatly assist Americans in preserving assets built over a lifetime for the benefit of family, heirs, or charities;
Whereas estate planning involves many considerations, including safekeeping of important documents, documentation of assets, operation of law in the various States, preparation of legal instruments, insurance, availability of trust arrangements, charitable giving, inter vivos care of the benefactor, and other important factors;
Whereas estate planning encourages timely decisions about the method of holding title to certain assets, the designation of beneficiaries, and the possible transfer of assets during the life of the benefactor;
Whereas many Americans are unaware that lack of estate planning and `financial illiteracy' may cause their assets to be disposed of to unintended parties by default through the complex process of probate;
Whereas alternatives to disposition of assets after death, such as planned gift-giving, may accomplish a benefactor's goal of providing for his or her family and favorite charities;
Whereas careful planning can prevent family members or other beneficiaries from being subjected to complex legal and administrative processes requiring significant expenditure of time, and greatly reduce confusion or even animosity among family members or other heirs upon the death of a loved one;
Whereas important considerations as to donation of organs and use of life support functions may be made through the estate planning process;
Whereas the implementation of an estate plan starts with sound education and planning, and then may require the proper drafting and execution of appropriate legal documents, including wills, trusts, and durable powers of attorney for health care;
Whereas the third week of October should be designated as `National Estate Planning Awareness Week'; and
Whereas the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils, representing over 28,000 estate planning professionals, together with the Universal Press Syndicate, the largest independent newspaper syndicate in the world, are prepared to provide such educational information to the public in a focused manner during National Estate Planning Awareness Week:
Now, therefore be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives —
Since posting my blog Reading and Living a Legacy - Send a Book to a Friend earlier this year, I have received many literary blessings from friends and clients, giving life to the old cliché (and in this instance a pun, but not an idiom): “You read me like a book." And they certainly have done so, quite successfully. Together we continue to explore the complementary notions of living and leaving a legacy with the traditional practice of estate planning, which if left alone, focuses only on “leaving your stuff."
From Practice Aloha - Secrets to Living Life Hawaiian Style, by Mark Ellman to the most recent gift, Is This Seat Taken? Random Encounters That Change Your Life, by Kristin S. Kaufman, my “living a legacy” reflection has many new layers. Ironically (or is that prophetically?), Kristin was herself a random encounter (or was she?).
Kristin tells personal stories that highlight the gifts of her random encounters and then invites our own reflection guided by the following: “Being Present in the Moment: Moving Towards Alignment." By embracing the added mindful intention of alignment, legacy is given even greater meaning, or potentially an active mandate. Total alignment requires a collective awareness of those present moments which are now part of our past, with a challenge to artfully carry them forward to the next present moment.
And therein lies the heart of “Living a Legacy” - awareness. One need not discard the past to be fully in the present. Instead, one should magically embrace its positive energy and transform it lovingly into the present*. Adding these layers acts as building blocks that actually enhance and empower the present exponentially. And, when the future then becomes the present, it is augmented with even greater intensity. Recognizing that the past has at differing times been both the present and the future, we can embrace the present with the same excitement for the role it plays in the future’s past and present. This is how a legacy is recognized, embraced, and communicated.
Karen Salmansohn, sometimes referred to as a "happiness expert," summarizes my perspective perfectly: “Everything you’ve ever done, every person you’ve ever met, every experience you’ve ever had, is a part of who you are today, adding interesting layers to your being, and colorful depths to your soul. Everything needed to be as it was, so you could grow as you did and do.” Soul and legacy are terms that we should grow accustomed to recognizing in tandem.
And so it is with our legacy and the blessings of our relationships. If you are totally present with a cherished friend, loved one, or family member, then you are also present with everything they have ever done, every person they have ever met, and every experience they have ever had. If we are mindful and aware of this tremendous efficiency of being, then we have in effect, known that person forever - their past is collectively part of our presence together. Our legacy is therefore intertwined with their legacy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this experience, awareness, and understanding among our parents, grandparents, and others who have shaped our lives and to be able to carry that legacy forward? Be mindful – you can do it.
And in the end, it doesn’t take long for me to recall a lyric from an old Beatles song, to express my world view. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together." John Lennon, I Am The Walrus, Magical Mystery Tour. We are all together - thank you.
A brief side-bar, as I just loved this adorable picture, which paraphrases a sentiment I've expressed to my wife many times. And then it hit me – I had, in fact, loved her forever.
*As for the negative energy from the past – dismiss and leave it in the past – no need to pull it forward. If it had somehow protected you in the past, say “thank you” and then “good-bye”. It is not your legacy.
Creating lists can offer an introduction to both the concept of mindfulness and the Aloha Spirit, which in turn creates an outline for your legacy planning. One of the key components of mindfulness is developing the capacity to fully focus, eliminating the clutter and becoming more aware. Similarly, making lists helps us focus and bring an array of seemingly random thoughts into the present moment – to get things done without distraction. The essence of experiencing the Aloha Spirit is to slow down, be aware, and be mindful of your environment and others - particularly those whom you love - ultimately determining how you are living your legacy.
I received some enchanting comments from those who are identifying with and implementing my “living a legacy” worldview and the conceptual design of the Aloha Book™. I recently experienced a double-double legacy moment. Rosalyn, a friend of almost fifty years, sent me a new book, Practicing Aloha – Secrets to Living Life Hawaiian Style – Stories, Recipes and Lyrics from Hawai’i’s Favorite Folks. Inside was an inscription from the editor: “To Will, Much Aloha, Mark Ellman." Mark has created a living compilation (or should I say “a list”) of “stories, recipes, and lyrics” of how people experience Aloha in their everyday life. The bonus legacy appeared in a portion of the inscription from Rosalyn, “I thought of the Aloha Blog when having lunch with a great friend at his restaurant, Honu.” The friend was of course, Mark Ellman, a fabulous chef, living in Maui. Although Rosalyn has spent a lifetime practicing Aloha, by making a mindful connection with my blog, she created an enduring legacy-enhancing moment.
Occasionally I get a compliment wrapped with some frustration. “Will, I wish I could write as well as you do – I seem to get writer's block when trying to start my Aloha Book™”. Because the Aloha Book™ is a template for YOUR story and not just a repeat of MY story, I have created a quick-start strategy. The easiest way to begin a reflection on your legacy is by making lists. One does not have to be a great writer to make a list; they must only possess a mindful intention. A list can provide a simple outline for an appropriate future narrative, or may simply tell a story by itself. After making your lists, you can later start telling the related stories by filling in the emotions, perspectives, and insights as to who you are, the amplification of which, will become part of YOUR Aloha Book™. You may also find that through this process, the Aloha Spirit might change your perspectives, relationships, and consciousness moving forward.
Here are a sampling of my lists (with a few of random entries) which I offer as evidence of how effortlessly powerful it can be. You can create your own categories or lists and edit them as often as you wish. As you discover how you have lived your legacy and how you will live it going forward, your lists and your entries may evolve as well.
Please understand, these are only partial lists that I am sharing with the universe at this time, as a catalyst for thought. My more detailed and expansive lists, together with the personal narratives will be shared with my WHO, as part of my legacy. Think not in terms of a “to do list” but instead create the space for your “DONE LIST”.
From the list above, the 1982 World Series offers an example of how I would expand my legacy story. I attended the World Series with my father and six of my very best friends. Game 7 was on October 19, 1982, which was my father’s 61st birthday, creating one of the most wonderful father/son memories imaginable once Bruce Sutter struck out Gorman Thomas, and the Cardinals won the World Championship. Two of my other friends, Carey and Greg, passed away two years ago, within 7 days of each other and a third of those friends, recently called to tell me he had been diagnosed with cancer. I hope you can see how making a simple list will give rise to a legacy story for my boys, explaining some very powerful relationships in my life.
Your legacy has been forming since birth but you are the only one that can pull it together, make adjustments, redefine, and add perspective. Have you ever lost a friend and then wished that you had known them better? I assure you that your friends and family will feel the same way unless you do something about it. I propose that if you focus on your legacy during your lifetime, you will in fact enhance the current joy in your life and of those around you. Think of your legacy as being defined by your relationships, which in turn will express your values.
And surprisingly, the momentum and perspective created by your legacy planning, will offer insights and perspective on your estate planning (your stuff), which should be added to your “to do list” so that it can be added to your “done list."
Then there is one more list that you will want to create – a list of those friends and family with whom you will share your lists. Beyond your family, start thinking of 12 friends, 3 close friends, and 1 best friend - your WHO friends as described by my friend, Bob Beaudine, The Power of Who.
Would you believe that I love to tell stories? Would you believe that I love to hear stories as well (with just a couple of exceptions)? Stories are wonderful invitations into one’s soul, heart, values, fears, joys, and the value placed on relationships. They tell a family history (note the word "story" in embedded in “history”). I have a very simple concept of eternal life: we live eternally through our legacy, the stories that people tell.
Granted, some people tell maniacal egotistical stories that portray themselves with grandiose drama and misplaced accolades. But, even those stories offer a few valuable data nuggets that deserve your care. You simply need to learn to “separate the wheat from the chaff” and enjoy the wheat. It also helps to learn a few transition lines to gently shift the conversation. Some rambling stories are simply seeking affirmation; you can save a lot of time and stress by granting that affirmation quickly by interjecting, “That is an awesome story and I am amazed by your accomplishments every time you tell it”.
And yet, there are some stories I enjoyed hearing my father tell over and over again. His stories evoked a humble pride transitioning into a wonderful life that emerged from the depths of the Depression, through WWII, and becoming a wonderful father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. His legacy lives through his stories and the stories I tell about him.
In his final years, my father endured a struggle with dementia that stole his short term memory but gloriously preserved his long term memory, encased in a special golden vault for him to share with my family. I loved every story he told, no matter how many times he told it. My three boys learned not only the value in granting time for their grandfather to tell the stories, but also the lessons held within the story itself. I urge all families to be mindful of listening to stories.
The following story is short, and everybody in my family can repeat it word for word. We can just pick one word or phrase from the story and capture it all.
The story would often start like this, which immediately reflects the loss of short term memory:
“Hey Zack, how old are you now?”
“Daddy Bill, I am 16.”
“You know, when I turned 16, I came home from school and my dad said, ‘Bill Ed, you’re 16 now, it’s time to quit school and get a job at the railroad as a hostler – it’s time you start earning some of your keep around here.'"
Dad paused and said, "Whatever that means."
The backdrop for this short story is so rich for me in many ways, so let me pick out my family nuggets to help you find the pieces of gold in your family stories.
It would be fair to say that my dad and his father were not close; let’s just say they didn’t go to ball games together. My grandfather was not an educated man, but he worked all day at the railroad and then came home and worked in his garden until dark. It was the Depression and my dad would often say (another quick story), “When they drew blood when I entered the Army, it was 90% turnip juice." Times were tough.
Since my grandfather believed that hard work was the only way to survive, it was his overwhelming measurable value, well above formal education. For him, it probably made perfectly good sense that my dad should quit school at 16 and start his career at the railroad, where he assumed his son would work the rest of his life. I imagine he believed a greater degree of seniority would be earned by starting early. My dad described a “hostler” as the worker that back-breakingly shoveled coal.
My grandfather’s comment about “earning some of your keep” expressed the toughness of the times and the need for every family member to contribute in some way. My dad’s parenthetical expression, “Whatever that means,” confirms the colloquialism of the term in today’s conversation, but he no doubt understood it at the time.
Dad did not quit school, as he knew that his education was important and the only vehicle to get away from a life at the railroad (which incidentally shut down shortly after the war). He earned his keep by waking up early, going to work at the drug store before school and serving breakfast. He would run back to the drug store to serve lunch and then again after school to serve dinner and clean the store. Dad worked seven days a week, but played dominoes at the fire station on weekend evenings. He claims he often won more money playing bones than his dad did at the railroad. (Dominoes gives rise to another great story, to be told at another time.) When my dad was old enough to join the National Guard he did so, primarily for the extra money, but maybe with a vision of getting far away from the railroad. Little did he know that a war would break out that changed his career course forever.
My dad valued education and often said (and I often repeat), "The greatest gift you can give your kids is a great education." The greatest part of that perspective is simply the truth, but subliminally he was completely rejecting his father’s advice at 16. I am so glad that he did. Another quick story: I attended Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, one of the most prestigious college preparatory schools in the country. It was no doubt expensive at the time, but Dad made sure that is where I attended. After my junior year, our tour of duty in Hawaii was over and we were scheduled for reassignment to the mainland. I would then have to attend my senior year in a new and strange venue, leaving behind relationships that to this day are among my most cherished. Dad recognized the value of my education and the importance of these relationships, and unilaterally decided, without family discussion or fanfare, that he was going to volunteer for a tour of duty in Vietnam so that my mother and I could stay in Hawaii and I could graduate from Punahou. He unselfishly lived his mantra, “The greatest gift you can give your kids is a great education,” and then some. I have carried this value forward for my boys, and I still get emotional telling this story.
The stories that my dad told about his father were not necessarily told with the same love and admiration that I share about my dad, who was my best friend. But almost every story about my grandfather spoke of his toughness. He was always described to me as “the toughest and hardest working man he ever knew,” certainly a value of the 1920s and 1930s. One day, in the last months before my father passed away, I had the opportunity to reframe his story about his father, without changing the facts.
I said, “Dad, I know you had a tough relationship with your father, but he taught you a lot about hard work, and to me you are the hardest working man I know. I am grateful that you have so lovingly passed that value on to me and Zack, and Paul, and Brad and modeled it for us with such compassion. So in separating the wheat from the chaff, we can look back at my grandfather and say, 'Thank you for living that value.'”
My dad looked up at me and said, “Damn right, he was a hard working man,” and I think there was some pride and peace in that recognition. Maybe a legacy was revised through the story.
About that time Zack walked into the room and Dad said, “Hey Zack, how old are you now?” You know the rest of the story.
Last weekend I asked Zack how his post-graduation job at Deloitte was going, to which he replied, “Just earning my keep, whatever that means,” – and now you know the rest of that story.
© Will Morris, JD, LLM 2014