3 Foundational Questions to Ask Before You Start a Legacy Plan

“Uffdah: it’s a common refrain in our house,” says Apex CEO Christy Boysen. She can rattle off, in detail, the family traditions that are non-negotiable on her calendar: lefse-making and cookie-baking days with the women in her family before Christmas. Plus the weekend getaways with her sisters and “their people,” as she calls the group of significant others and kids who’ve joined the family of late. 

For Katelyn, “Family dinners are notorious for being super obnoxious. My dad cries when he laughs too hard. Happens every time…and if you can get him to that point, then it’s all downhill from there!” He also throws bread at people over the dinner table. Those who’ve been around for a while have come to expect it. Others get nailed with a bun to the forehead as her dad yells, “Think fast!”

For me, there’s a weird lisp we use when speaking on behalf of our spoiled-rotten family pets. “Dog talk” is spoken fluently by at least a couple dozen odd aunts, cousins, and family friends on my mom’s side of the family. On dad’s super-German side of the family, there are closely-held brat-frying techniques, strong opinions about sauerkraut, and “Here’s how we lost the farm!” spoken in a toast when someone takes the first sip of beer for the day. 

Families are quirky. They have their own lore and layers, values, traditions, heirlooms, favorite memories and places. These are the things that should be thought about and preserved when putting a legacy plan together.

In fact, there are a few foundational questions we routinely ask clients as they’re getting started in our signature legacy planning program:

Have you ever stopped to think about what really matters to your family? 

Do you share a faith tradition, or a passion for something? Whether it’s adoption, animals, the environment, educational opportunities in developing countries, or just about any other cause–there are nonprofits out there who are making a difference. Is there a school, camp, or place of worship that’s especially important to you? Maybe another way to ask this is, “If I were to give you a million dollars to give away, where would you direct it?” And through creative charitable giving tools, you may be able to make the largest charitable gift(s) of your life through estate assets. 

Does your family know about your values, and specifically your charitable giving and goals? If they don’t, you may want to consider writing a legacy letter telling your loved ones what they mean to you, how you hope to be remembered, and your wishes for them–and your estate. It’s likely your loved ones will play some role in settling your estate, so it’ll be good for them to know the heart behind your plans.

What’s unique about your family?

One of the top goals most clients have–even if they’re super-generous when it comes to charity–is to make sure their heirs are cared for through their estate. But sometimes “cared for” looks a little different for each heir…or there’s even a gray area about who should be an heir. 

Are there any interesting–good, bad, maybe complicated–dynamics at play? Maybe there’s a family member with special needs or an addiction–or one person manages money well, but another needs a little more support in that arena. Is there a child from a previous marriage? Is there an exchange student, foster child, or family friend that’s like a child to your family? Consider your list of heirs, and whether estate disbursements should look the same for each one. 

What about assets that might need some extra attention? Is there a family cabin or one-of-a-kind heirlooms that should be documented or protected in an estate plan? Perhaps there’s a family business that needs to be considered. Perhaps your family has a thing for corgis, speaking Chinese, art, history, or racecars. 

Jot all of these things down, because these unique characteristics can be woven into an estate plan. An estate attorney or legacy planning consultant can help you think of creative ways to celebrate the things that make your family you–and make sure every family member is treated appropriately. And every piece of your plan can be tailored to make sense for who you are, what you believe, and even how you talk! (We’ve never seen “Uffdah” in an estate preamble, but there’s nothing saying the word couldn’t make an appearance!)

What are your goals for your estate?

At Apex, we love to educate our clients on all the options that are out there in the estate and charitable gift planning world, so they can make the absolute best decisions for their family, their stage of life, the size of their estate, and their unique assets. We hope to help them eliminate unnecessary tax and give strategically to both people and organizations–but it helps to know what their top priorities are, first!

Most want to support their heirs as much as possible. But we often talk about the “Rule of 18,” based on a study of many people who received lump sum inheritances. It showed that if someone receives an inheritance–of any amount–it’ll be, on average, 18 hours before they’re shopping online, channeling their grief into meaningless, impulsive spending. It’ll be 18 days before they’re in a new car showroom, buying a shiny new SUV or sports car. It’ll be just 18 months before their entire inheritance is gone….regardless of whether they inherit $18, $1,800 or $18 Million! They may spend the money on worthwhile things–like paying down a mortgage or making good investments–but that money will be gone. So think about the impact you want your estate to have on your heirs, what age they’re likely to be when they inherit money from you, and how they’re likely to handle the money you give them. We can help you map out how taxes, market growth, and asset types may impact your heirs in different possible legacy plan scenarios. 

Is travel important to you? Maybe you want to bring your extended family on a genealogy trip together–while you’re still healthy enough to enjoy it. Or, maybe you want to make sure your heirs can travel to national parks with their own nuclear families–like you did when they were young. Those things can be arranged! 

Are family celebrations a big deal in your family? You can set up a trust to disperse funds when heirs get married, buy homes, have or adopt children, etc. What about education? You can fund higher education–or business endeavors–for your kids, grandkids, and/or heirs.

And don’t forget that most of our clients have decades of life ahead of them after they set up a legacy plan! Think of how you want to be remembered, and know that you can have a profound impact on that with how you continue to live your life, treat your loved ones, and support your favorite causes now. When you have a thoughtful, flexible legacy plan in place, it can bring a tremendous amount of peace and free you up to live a life you can be proud of.


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