Mark A. Bregman, Estates and Trusts Lawyer

 

Posts Tagged “legacy”

A Brief Respite and Some Insight

Gardens at the La Posada Hotel

A few weeks ago I was able to check off an item from my Arizona historical tour “bucket list” when Sandy and I spent the night at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow Arizona.  A short block from where the hitchhiker in the Eagles’ classic Take It Easy saw the girl slow down in the flat bed Ford, this renovated Fred Harvey hotel (servicing the Santa Fe railroad that first opened in 1930 and closed in 1957 before being renovated beginning in 1997) is a delightful summer getaway if you are an Arizona history buff.  Fully refurbished in the original style with the fabulous Turquoise Room restaurant, interesting art, a plethora of old photographs, I thought about life in the thirties and how my descendants will think about life in 2010 around the turn of the next century.

We completed our day by visiting Bearizona, a drive thru wild animal park 80 miles to the west in Williams, Arizona.

During this trip I saw the old and the new stand in stark contrast, and my thoughts turned to how to structure estate plans that will also span the generations.  I wonder if La Posada’s architect, Mary Colter, was thinking about 2010 when she began designing this hotel in the 1920s.  How amazing to construct not a building but an idea; one that survived the Great Depression, the complete renovation into offices for the railroad, and an attempted demolition, only to stand once again among the crown jewels of Arizona history and the Americana of historic Route 66.

If I can help my clients create such a lasting legacy I will be proud.  The best part is that although it’s not easy to project what your descendants will be doing in 90 years, it is absolutely possible to create a plan that can last such a length of time, especially here in Arizona. Arizona’s rule against perpetuities now allows trusts to be created with a life span of 500 years!  Where were your ancestors in 1510?

Creating a trust plan that might last even 100 years may seem like a Herculean task, but it is the long range plan that gives shape to the next generation and the generation after that, and that will free us from the mundane and help us focus on our enduring values.  I think it will benefit our children to know that the money and values they inherit are not necessarily for them to spend, but for them to grow and pass on.  May each generation surpass the last, and each succeeding generation be better than the last in every way.

I look forward to helping you focus on value based planning.  If you are a current client and already have a long-term plan we’ve created together, I hope you will pass this along to someone else who you think might enjoy seeing the big picture.

Leaving A Legacy: Improving the World With Social Capital

Social capital is the money or time you contribute to worthy causes that improve society.  A favorite saying around charitable causes is the phrase “give or get” which means members can either contribute an amount of money toward the goal or they can go out and raise that sum of money from people they know.  The saying recognizes that the time expended raising money is often as important as contributing the money itself.

But the social capital I want to talk about in the context of estate planning emanates from my friend’s philosophy that “money is only a tool.”

Although it is often unexpected, when I initiate conversations with estate planning clients my goal is to begin each relationship by learning what each new client values.

Commonly, they are proud of the manner in which they have provided for their family and their intention to provide financial support after they die. However, they often worry that their descendants won’t use their inheritance wisely; and sometimes clients feel that their descendants don’t really need an inheritance anyway.

The concept of social capital solves many issues.  It allows you to contribute money to causes you believe in and set up your descendants to be caretakers of the capital for the future.  It benefits the descendant that doesn’t need your money by speaking from your heart to their own.  It benefits the spendthrift by substituting personal responsibility for temptation.

There are 2 schools of thought about the use of social capital.  Some clients are just not interested in the concept, believing they have supported their causes during their lifetime and it is their descendants’ turn to decide how to act.  Others see the use of social capital as a key tool to building a legacy through strength of character.  Depending on the client’s perspective there are different ways to use this tool.

One way is to purchase life insurance and name a favorite cause as the beneficiary.  This allows small amounts of premium dollars to blossom into a large gift that can provide major support for a favorite cause.  This works well in many situations, but it does not build responsibility in your descendants.

There are tax motivated strategies such as naming a charity as the beneficiary of a retirement account that has not yet been taxed.  Leaving the descendants post-tax assets and gifting the as of yet untaxed retirement plan can yield a good income tax and estate tax result.  Creating charitable remainder trusts as a technique to avoid capital gains on appreciated property is a good strategy when contemplating the sale of highly appreciated real estate or a business.  These strategies share the defect of providing social capital, but not involving your descendants.

A good way to speak to your descendants is to set aside a portion of your wealth in a donor advised fund and name your descendants as the advisors to the fund.  Your voice comes through because you leave your descendants the responsibility of making decisions about how, when, and to whom to give money.  It encourages them to honor your legacy by becoming involved in the causes they support.

However you choose to create a philanthropic legacy, you will be speaking in a clear voice to your descendants about your values and making a difference the way you decide best suits your own perspective.

Leaving a Legacy: Your Own Voice in Your Estate Plan

(image courtesy of Treasre Chest Products)

(image courtesy of www.treasurechestproducts.com)

Back in December I blogged about estate planning not being about money and described the beginning of a journey to find the legacy you want to leave to your children, today I’m going to write about another part of that journey… finding your own voice.

Part of finding your legacy means looking for and putting your own voice into your documents.  Recently I blogged about George Washington’s Will and the way he breathed life into his estate plan by describing the importance of his swords bequeathed to his nephews and the even more important freedoms for which they stood.  Not all of us can be the father of our country, but all of us can bequeath the lessons of a lifetime and speak to our descendants through our estate plan.

Estate planning interviews that begin with how much money you have and to whom do you want to leave it are likely to end there as well.  Interviews that beginning by  listening to your own life’s story give you an opportunity to explore who you are, what you have done, and what is important to you.

When I was first starting out as an inexperienced estate planning attorney, I was often so in awe of my clients who were worth a lot of money that I couldn’t wait to try to impress them in return with the amount of knowledge I had and to use that knowledge to save them even more money.  I was so awe struck, that I neglected to appreciate the value of who they were.  If it was often a less than satisfying personal relationship for me, I slowly realized, it must have been mutually unsatisfactory for my clients as well.

I began to understand if I first learned who my clients were, I would soon appreciate what they valued, and it would become apparent how they had managed to accumulate the wealth and why they were now asking me to preserve it for their descendants.

Certainly passing along hard earned money is a priority for some clients, but poll after poll and personal experience say that what clients really want to deliver to the next generation is their own legacy.  Passing on the money is easy; passing on your legacy is harder.

I have experimented with various tools for getting my clients in touch with their values for estate planning purposes.  The best strategy is active listening.  The hard part is that it is so easy, it doesn’t seem like I am working, I am learning.  But as I learn from my clients, their voices ring in my head.  As I draft their documents, who they are becomes embedded within the corners of the document creating a monument that will live at least as long as the money.

What do you value?  Let me help you deliver those values to the next generation and maybe the generation after that.

Leaving A Legacy: Estate Planning Is Not Just About Money

I know this title seems strange.

Almost everyone thinks they need an estate plan to insure the comfortable transition of their money.  With few exceptions, I feel that my clients are burdened with the prospect of making decisions about how to pass along their accumulated wealth.  It drives home the point of why the fear based selling I studiously avoid is so compelling.

You’ve worked a lifetime building up not only a fortress of wealth, but also building a legacy of values.  If you believe in the adage “give a man a fish you feed him for 1 day, but teach a man to fish and you’ve fed him for a lifetime,” I have an idea for you.

I read an article not too long ago about family harmony which also described the challenges of leaving a family business when only some of the beneficiaries are interested in the business and the others are not.  The need for life insurance to be sure that the child who runs the business can keep the business was one of the lessons of the article, but there are others.

The key is not to consider the amount of your accumulated wealth in terms of dollars, but in terms of value and legacy.  It won’t be much of a legacy if 10 years after your death, the children are still fighting over how to divide your most prized asset when the real fight might be about who loved whom more.

Once the discussion turns to your values and legacy, it is easier to understand the true importance of estate planning.

One of my favorite clients repeatedly drives home the point that he is not interested in controlling the lives of his family from the grave.  While he is completely at peace with his decisions, I struggle with the concept of letting grandchildren control their substantial inheritances at age 18.

Because he started with nothing and became a true giant, first in his industry and then in philanthropy, he believes everyone can.  Actually, I shouldn’t say he started with nothing.  I should say he started with no money.  He obviously had an abundance of something that drove him to success.  He built an industry leading company, he married a woman to whom he was mutually devoted for many years and had 3 children, each of whom he is proud of in their own unique way.  He pursued his passions at what for me was a dizzying pace and he is conflicted that more attention is given to the money he contributes than the non-monetary contributions to the fields of those he chooses to honor.

He doesn’t understand why I don’t share his abiding confidence in his grandchildren and he dismisses my dire predictions that most wealth is dissipated in less than 3 generations.  Then I realized that I’m the one who doesn’t understand.

You see, my prescription for the malady of inherited wealth being wasted is to lock it up in trust and dribble it out over the generations.  His plan is to be a venture capitalist – give the money to his descendants and let them learn how to use it.  Do good or dissipate it – either way, he believes the value of the lesson is more valuable than the security the money can provide and for him, estate planning really isn’t about the money.

We philosophically wrestle with the ease with which he is willing to let his children and grandchildren make their own mistakes.  With a Zen-like countenance, he repeats his mantra that “money is only a tool.”

I’m still learning, but I think he means that the lessons learned from making mistakes are more valuable than the money itself.  Judging from the mistakes he has shared with me, intellectually I know he is right; although deep in my legally trained gut it is still difficult to accept.

For my client and friend, estate planning is not about money.  He is blessed with an uncommon grasp of the meaning of a life well spent.  I hope I can help all my clients pass on their own unique ideas and values to their loved ones along with any financial inheritance.  But even more, I hope I can hold onto this valuable lesson. Because the truth is, I learn more from some of my clients than they learn from me.