At a recent symposium, the presenter described the almost magical way the father of our country turned his bequests of personal property into a legacy that lasted generations.
He described the portion of Washington’s Will that bequeathed his swords to his nephews. Instead of a simple listing of the items and the recipients, he wrote the following words:
“To each of my Nephews, William Augustine Washington, George Lewis, George Steptoe Washington, Bushrod Washington, & Samuel Washington, I give one of the Swords or Cutteaux of which I may die possessed; and they are to chuse in the order they are named. These swords are accompanied with an injunction not to unsheath them for the purpose of shedding blood, except it be for self defence, or in defence of their Country & its rights; and in the latter case, to keep them unsheathed, and prefer falling with them in their hands, to the relinquishment thereof.” [Emphasis Added]
With those simple words he created a lasting legacy far more important than the value of the property bequeathed. In a single sentence he defined his character and his hopes, dreams, and aspirations not only for his nephews, but for future generations yet unborn. Imagine the honored place those swords must have taken in the lives and homes of the recipients and the lessons of freedom taught future generations.
I recently sat with a long time client who was grieving over the loss of his friend of over 50 years as we discussed what to do with his friend’s personal property which consisted of a lifetime of collecting crystal and works of art. I explained his mundane choices as the executor of the estate of distributing the property to friends or relatives who treasured something from the decedent, keeping it for himself as a remembrance, or selling it. We began discussing the value and the potential liquidation value. Suddenly, the conversation turned very somber and my client slowly began telling me a story. “Mark,” he said quietly, “I don’t want any of that stuff, I have my own stuff.” He paused, lost in thought, and then continued. “He loved that stuff. I had no interest in it. But he studied the prices at retail stores and then shopped at second hand stores. He would find a piece he liked and he would carefully examine it.” My client slowly demonstrated a shopper holding up a piece with his hands and he slowly turned the imaginary piece over and around as he examined it. “He would often buy it for 20% of what it would have cost new.” Between the words and the hand gestures, by the time he finished telling the story and composed himself, I knew what he intended to do with the collection that only a few moments before he had described as “just stuff.”
Our lives make a difference. Many of us have an under developed appreciation for what we bring to the lives of those around us. Your Last Will and Testament can be written in your own voice so that the value of what you leave reflects the value of who you are. Contact me for more information about how to put your own voice into your estate plan and emulate George Washington in posterity.