Genealogy has long fascinated many people, and it continues to be studied by those who are interested in discovering who they descended from and what those family members were like. Many of us have gazed at black and white or sepia-tone photos of ancestors whose names we don’t know and wondered about their lives, joys, trials, and accomplishments. Fortunately, today, there are many resources making it much easier to discover information about prior generations of our families.
Celebrate National Genealogy Day this month by delving into the past to find out more about your family members, but also by taking steps to leave behind a legacy for your own present and future family members. By creating an estate plan, you can benefit future generations, not only monetarily, but also by sharing important values and life lessons.
Investigate the Past
Talk to members of the older generation. If you have older relatives still living, take advantage of their knowledge to gain more information not only about their lives, but also about your family tree and the individuals comprising it. You can ask them about how important historical events impacted them and other family members, where they grew up, stories about other family members, the occupations of family members, and other facets of their lives.
Do research. Online services are available that enable you to do research for a fee, but you may also be able to find some information using the libraries of local genealogical societies, genealogical resources in local public libraries, or genealogy databases available at the U.S. Library of Congress. Some companies may even enable you to identify other people to whom you may be related, as well as the cultures and migration paths of your ancestors, by analyzing a sample of your DNA.
Using these tools, you can find out a lot about your family and geographical roots. But you can also get inspired to leave something behind for your own descendants.
Have an Impact on the Future
Leave monetary gifts. Most parents and grandparents want to leave an inheritance for their family members. You can draft a will to transfer the money and property you have worked hard to accumulate to your loved ones, but a simple will alone is often not the best estate planning tool. If you leave outright gifts to your children and grandchildren, there is no guarantee that it will be spent wisely and it can be taken by beneficiaries’ creditors to satisfy claims. In addition, the money and property transferred using a will has to go through probate proceedings, which can be lengthy and expensive, and are open to the public. If you want to ensure that your money and property are available to benefit your family over the long term without the hassle of probate, there are other estate planning tools you can use.
You can make life easier not only for your children but potentially also for your grandchildren by creating a trust, either during your lifetime or that will become effective upon your death, naming them as beneficiaries. When you form and fund a trust, it can hold money and property for the benefit of specific people, and certain types of trusts will protect it from future legal claims arising from lawsuits, creditors’ claims, or divorcing spouses. In addition, you can include terms designed to ensure the funds held in the trust are sustainable by specifying how and when money should be distributed to your beneficiaries. You could decide to have it transferred as a lump sum upon your death, have portions of it distributed when the beneficiaries reach certain ages, or state that it should be distributed for specific purposes, such as expenses for their health, education, support, and welfare. In addition, you can have a positive impact on the lives of your children and grandchildren by setting aside funds to help them with expenditures associated with certain important life events, i.e., a wedding, college tuition, a down payment on a house, or funding for a new business.
Leave gifts reflecting your values.
Not all wealth is in the form of money and property. Over a lifetime, an individual accumulates a wealth of knowledge, life lessons, values, and experiences that can be shared with later generations. Two great ways you can communicate your values, life experiences, and knowledge are creating an ethical will and leaving instructions for your funeral service.
Ethical will. An ethical will, sometimes called a legacy letter, is not a binding legal document. Rather, it is simply a letter—or even a video recording—in which you can communicate any important values, sentiments, or life lessons that you think will benefit your family members and descendants. Your ethical will can be one of the most meaningful parts of your estate plan, and it can become a part of your family history that will be cherished by future family members who may have no other opportunity to know you or benefit from the wisdom you have gained over a lifetime.
Funeral or memorial service. Although no one enjoys thinking about their own funeral, one of the most thoughtful acts you can do for your loved ones is to make arrangements in advance for your own funeral service. It is also a means to ensure that your service includes elements reflecting values or religious convictions that you want to communicate and pass on to your family members and loved ones. In your arrangements, you can ask the officiate to include scripture verses, songs, or stories that convey principles that you would like your children and grandchildren to heed.
Care for Your Family—Past and Future
This month, you can celebrate National Genealogy Day by spending a little time investigating your family’s roots by researching genealogical records. But an even more important investment of your time can be made by creating an estate plan designed to provide both a monetary and spiritual inheritance that will enhance your family members’ future. Ask us about our Legacy Planning, a great way to help you create an estate plan enabling you to pass on all aspects of your wealth.