Beyond the Will: Legacy Planning in 2021

Taking these 3 steps beyond preparing your legal estate documents can help to ensure your legacy is preserved for generations

While it’s often been reported that just over half of Canadians don’t have a will, recent news stories have highlighted an upward tick in estate planning since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Not only are more people getting their wills drawn up, but many are also thinking about legacy planning, and what that entails beyond their legal documents. “It’s thought of as being the softer side of estate planning,” says Genus Portfolio Manager, Grant Conroy. “But it’s actually hard because it involves communication and sometimes tough conversations.”

Most people associate the term “legacy” with money. But Conroy often asks his clients what they most want to be remembered for. And their answer isn’t usually just about their financial gifts. “A legacy gift can be money or property, but it can also be something transmitted or received from a predecessor, such as knowledge or wisdom.”

Conroy says things like hard-won lessons, accumulated education and life experiences are “so valuable” to pass on to the next generation. But doing so effectively takes foresight and effort.

As you prepare or revise your estate plan, consider incorporating these three additional steps into your legacy planning process.

1. Articulating Purpose

Letting your intended beneficiaries in on your intentions behind your gifts, whether they’re financial or otherwise, is a critical part of ensuring your legacy lives on. And you can do this in your plan.

Add some meaning, history and even storytelling along with your legal documents by creating a message that details your thought process. This gives the beneficiaries some context, and allows them to build understanding and gratitude for the shared history and continued legacy. “We have all lost somebody in our lives,” Conroy says. “Imagine the comfort of being able to still ‘hear’ their voice.”

You may also consider adding stories about your life, your learnings and any nuggets of wisdom you’d like to pass along. “There are some great exercises you can do that allow you to capture stories and feelings and add them into a plan so that it becomes more meaningful,” Conroy says. He recommends a book like Letters to My Grandchild, which offers templates you can fill with memories and use alongside your will.

2. Planning for Success

You wouldn’t give a Ferrari to a 16-year-old without some expectation that it might get ruined. And yet so many people leave assets to beneficiaries without any consideration of their ability to manage them.

This is where education is key. “We spend a lot of time trying to build a life for ourselves to give better opportunities to the next generation,” Conroy says, “but we often don’t spend the same time educating them on how to manage these gifts when we pass on.”

Planning for the success of your legacy involves doing the work to build skills, knowledge and confidence with your beneficiaries so that they can handle the gifts you intend for them. It’s a long-term process that begins years – or even decades – before the gift is given.

3. Communicating Intentions

The division of an estate can be grounds for potential conflict – particularly when heirs are left without any information about why assets were allocated the way they were, or not allocated at all. “Tangible property tends to be the emotional stuff,” Conroy says, “especially with things that have meaning and emotional value, like jewellery, family heirlooms or even real estate.”

Having family meetings as plans are drawn up or revised can allow for an airing of intentions and emotions long before the division of assets occurs. “Have some forethought and conversation about what you have and who wants it,” Conroy says. “Figure out a process to decide where everything goes. For example, would you split things based on dollar value or emotional attachment? How do you make fair allocations? Often the stuff that creates the biggest conflict could be resolved easily with efforts to communicate about it in advance.”

Of course, thinking and communication about what will happen after you’re gone can be time consuming and challenging. But Conroy advises starting sooner rather than later. “Money and death are taboo subjects – no one likes talking about them. But it needs to be intentional,” he says. “Don’t do it around the Thanksgiving dinner table. Set aside some time, plan who will be there and what you’re wanting to achieve. And know that you won’t get it done in one go, so don’t make it too morbid and boring or no one will come back!”


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