What Issues Will Your Family Confront After Your Death, And How Will It Shape Their Opinion Of Your Life? Learn How You Can Put Your Legacy On The Right Track.
Nobody wants to leave a burden to loved ones after they die. You want to be remembered fondly. You want your life and the things you leave behind to stand as a positive legacy to your life. But will it?
Unfortunately, I learned about this issue the hard way, and I have a sad story to share with you so that you can avoid making the same mistakes my family made. It all began when my father-in-law passed away six months prior to writing this article. He was a good man, in excellent health, and his death came unexpectedly at an early age.
Prior to his passing, Tom had many good intentions. He planned on cleaning up wounded family relationships, but those relationships were left painfully incomplete. The remaining family members were left to sort and struggle in an effort to find closure.
He planned on getting his accounting records together and filing several years of delinquent, back taxes. His children were left with the impossible task of preparing tax returns with incomplete records and personally signing and taking on liability for those back taxes.
He planned on living long enough for Medicare to replace the health insurance he dropped because it was too expensive. He didn’t make it. His children were left to negotiate and settle the medical bills that would devour a lifetime of savings and bankrupt his estate.
He planned on cleaning out the storage locker and garage filled with outdated and worthless junk. Instead, his children had to take time away from family and business to clear the clutter he never took care of.
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I love. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle for me; it is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got a hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
George Bernard Shaw
He planned on organizing his financial affairs and assembling an estate plan with updated beneficiaries. Instead he left another mess with contradictory documents and incomplete estate plans that placed family members at odds with each other.
He planned on taking care of all his messes. He never thought his time was up – nobody ever does. He planned on living longer and eventually getting around to these things, but he never did. Life had a different plan for him – and his children.
He was a bright, intelligent, good-hearted man who left a lousy legacy – so lousy that it brought my wife and I to the brink of emotional and physical exhaustion after more than half a year of full-time work and stressful decisions settling his affairs. That was his legacy to us, and it left an enduring, tragic, aftertaste.
Please, please – don’t do the same thing to your loved ones.
How To Make Sure His Life Legacy Won’t Be Yours
There are several lessons we can learn from my father-in-law.
The first lesson is there will never be a convenient time to put your affairs in order. Nobody wants to confront a storage locker full of junk or pay an expensive lawyer to create an estate plan. It is never convenient. For that reason we mistakenly put off these things because something else is always more pressing.
We believe we will live forever, and 99.9% of the time we are right. Every morning we wake up again and our procrastination has caused no pain. But suddenly and unpredictably there are no more tomorrows, and then it is too late. You legacy is set in stone. The clock has stopped and you can’t turn back. What’s done is done. More importantly, what isn’t done will be left for your family to do. They have no choice. Your responsibility becomes theirs.
Look at all the unfinished business in your life that drains your energy. Clutter in the house, old junk, delinquent taxes, disorganized records, financial messes, wounded relationships and more. Anything that takes energy from you or causes you stress qualifies for this list.
“When you die you do not take what you have. You take what you gave.”
The reality is none of these energy drains go away when you die. Instead, you pass them on to your loved ones. These energy drains are your legacy because your loved ones get to clear them up. And if you think they are difficult for you to deal with just imagine how hard it will be for your children or surviving spouse to add them on top of the emotional distress of your passing and their already busy, full lives.
Setting up your estate plan while living is a relatively simple matter for you to complete compared to the burden you pass to your family when you force them to settle an improperly organized estate through the legal process. Not acting responsibly up front passes on a burden magnified ten-fold and can multiply costs similarly.
The burden isn’t just financial either. Sure, costs can be higher and complications can increase, but that is nothing compared to the emotional stress of balancing various family members needs and wants with the wishes of the deceased when things aren’t properly documented. It is not okay for anyone to leave that burden to his/her loved ones.
Trust me… I’ve been there and it is horrible.
The Advantages To Putting Your Affairs In Order … Now
“When you have told anyone you have left him a legacy the only decent thing to do is die at once.”
The primary rule I learned from my father-in-law’s death is that there is no better time than the present to put my life in order. Some day I will die and everything will be passed on to my loved ones – the good, the bad and the ugly. Whatever I don’t take care of now will become their burden, and I have no intention of leaving a burdensome legacy. Do you?
Putting my life in order includes the following:
1) Clean up relationship clutter: Don’t leave open wounds. Seek completeness in all relationships so that if you or the other person were to die today there would be nothing left unfinished or un-said. How many relationships do you have where that is not true? Clean them up starting today.
2) Clean up all physical clutter: My family’s rule is if we haven’t used it in a year and we can’t see any reason why next year should be any different, then it is time for that item to find a new home. If it isn’t useful or beautiful then it is gone because it is clutter. No storage lockers, no boxes full of unused belongings, no over-stuffed closets. Anything not actively being enjoyed takes more energy than it gives. Less is more. Get rid of it.
There are five ways you benefit by getting all forms of clutter out of your life:
- More Energy: Imagine an invisible thread connecting you to every item in that messy garage and overstuffed closet. These threads take energy. Listen to your negative self-talk every time you look at the mess. When you release this unused stuff a weight will be lifted from your shoulders and you will feel better.
- More Money: Our family has made thousands of dollars selling items we no longer use on Ebay. We have also donated thousands of dollars in valuables to charity. Not only do the cash and deductions feel good, but more importantly the choice to live responsibly by possessing only what we use feels even better.
- More Time: Clutter wastes time. A closet containing only the few clothing items you enjoy wearing is better than a closet overstuffed with clothes you rarely use. A garage organized so you can walk around and find everything quickly and efficiently is superior to a garage overstuffed with seldom used things that just gets in the way. Time spent searching through clutter is time wasted.
- More Joy: My mother gave my daughters a beautiful, fancy dollhouse with all the furnishings from her personal collection. She could have left it as an inheritance after she died, but why let it sit unused? The joy and excitement on my kid’s faces as they play with this dollhouse proves the unique and irreplaceable gift this was from Grandma. What things are you still holding on to that could bring joy and happiness to someone you love right now?
- First-Rate Legacy: When you pass along an organized estate free of excessive clutter you impart a wonderful gift to those you love. When you pass along a disorganized, cluttered estate you are merely shifting the burden of cleaning up the mess from you to your loved ones.
3) Be responsible in the present: Beyond the emotional and physical clutter that must be cleaned up lies the everyday business responsibilities of life. Carry proper medical insurance, file your tax returns, and maintain organized records because on some unknowable date in the future you are 100% certain to die. When that occurs a trusted loved one will have to file the final tax return, pay your medical bills, and sort through all your paperwork in order to finalize your affairs.
Try imagining walking into your office with the job of sorting out your estate, and you have no clue what to expect or where anything is located. Is everything organized in one place and carefully labeled so that it’s duh-obvious and no experience is required? Can a person of reasonable intelligence with no background or foreknowledge find all the documents and determine who the necessary contact people are?
4) Be responsible to the future: Create one and only one estate plan and complete the process by funding the trusts and assigning beneficiaries so that you leave a clear, unambiguous message to your heirs. Don’t leave it half done or poorly done. Do it right even if it costs a pretty penny. It reduces the confusion and risk of family conflict to a minimum.
While you are at it make sure to establish clear medical directives and powers of attorney to minimize the burden on loved ones should difficult medical decisions be required.
None of these issues are fun to deal with, but they are an essential part of living with integrity. Additionally, they have two large advantages – present and future.
The present advantage results from dealing with the clutter of your life now rather than later. This removes the energy drains now and frees up your time and money resources to focus on moving your life forward with greater joy. You will feel the freedom and lightness of being that comes with an uncluttered life while you are still around to enjoy it.
“No legacy is so rich as honesty.”
The future advantage is the high-quality legacy you will leave behind after you die. You will be able to pass with peace of mind knowing you did your best to minimize the inevitable burden for your family members. And your family members will respect you even more in your passing because the responsibility and love you showed toward them by preparing your affairs to ease their burden will be obvious for everyone to see.
It is the legacy I believe we all want to leave.
The Burden is Either Yours’ Or Theirs’
If you are thinking to yourself that this is just too much to deal with right now, then I suggest standing in your kid’s or spouse’s shoes. Feel their pain of loss upon your passing. A hole has been opened in their lives that nobody can fill. They are grieving while trying to maintain lives already busy with kids, careers, and personal interests.
Now imagine how impossibly busy and overwhelmed their lives will be when forced to take on the very things you didn’t want to work on yourself. If it is too much of a burden for you to confront just imagine what an impossible burden it will be for your children when they have to deal with it? Is that the legacy you want to leave?
“But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Learn from my family’s experience. Recognize that your life today is creating a legacy for tomorrow. If you died right now while reading this sentence, what would your legacy be? What unfinished business do you have? What relationship and physical clutter would you leave for others to deal with? How difficult would your estate be to settle?
If the support and accountability of a personal financial coach would help you confront these tasks and succeed at getting your affairs in order then I am ready to lend a hand. Now is the time to secure your life’s legacy. You never know what tomorrow will bring.