Estate planning isn’t always the most popular subject around the dinner table, but it’s certainly one of the most important. As the holidays approach, and we find ourselves spending more time with loved ones, thoughts of the type of legacy we’ll leave behind to them may start to creep into the back of our minds.

Whether or not you already have an estate plan in place, it’s important to regularly update it to take into account any new changes in your life and to ensure it reflects your wishes—should your health or living arrangements change unexpectedly.

Will Vs. Estate Plan

Many people wonder if a will is the same as an estate plan, or vice versa. Think of your will as a giant puzzle piece. Though it’s an important component, it’s just one of many pieces that you’ll need to complete the whole picture of estate planning.

Estate planning not only outlines which of your assets go to whom, but it also names an executor of your estate to oversee the terms of your will, as well as a Power of Attorney to act on your behalf, should you be unable to do so due to a medical condition: 

Estate planning involves determining how an individual’s assets will be preserved, managed, and distributed after death. It also takes into account the management of an individual’s properties and financial obligations in the event that they become incapacitated,” (Investopedia).

Estate plans help you name who you desire to handle your finances and decide where you are to live and receive care. Having this planned out ahead of time when you are an active participant is important. This allows you to be the decision maker and to assign a person you trust to carry out your wishes.

Your estate plan may also include a trust. This is helpful for loved ones, especially in terms of reducing estate taxes: “A properly constructed trust can help protect your estate from your heirs’ creditors or from beneficiaries who may not be adept at money management,” (Fidelity).

Do I Need a Living Will?

As with understanding the difference between a will and estate plan, it’s also important to know what a living will entails vs. a Last Will and Testament. 

A living will is a legal document that outlines your instructions in the event that you are unable to communicate your wishes, due to a medical condition. 

A will, on the other hand, provides instructions for how you’d like your assets distributed among beneficiaries after the event of your passing. Both documents take effect after particular events take place. As you can’t predict which event will happen first, it’s important to meet with an estate planning attorney to ensure they are both filed, legally binding, and set to take effect. 

Leaving Behind Your Legacy

In addition to ensuring your estate plan is up to date, there are other ways you can leave behind your legacy to loved ones. Remember, though it’s vital to have your estate sorted with an experienced attorney, your loved ones can also benefit from you leaving behind memories that they can cherish and pass down to each generation.

Here are a few ideas to help you share your legacy!

Set Up the Video Camera

With the convenience of smartphones, you can easily record a special message to your loved ones that they can keep forever. Things you might want to include:

  • Where did you grow up?  
  • Where did you meet your spouse? 
  • What is your favorite memory about each of your children?  
  • What advice would you give your grandkids just starting out in life?  

Gather Up the Family Recipes

Sift through the old recipe cards in the kitchen and select your favorites! You can either type these up yourself or ask a son or daughter to help. Purchase three-ring binders and make recipe books for all of the kids/grandkids.  

Many great family traditions are built around food—and this is a great way to preserve them.

Don’t Forget the Photos

Perhaps the most powerful way to look back on our lives and share these fond memories with others is through photos and mementos. 

Consider working with your children or grandchildren to put together personalized albums that include photos and mementos specific to them and your time together. Preserving the fond memories of the past while continuing to capture them as they happen now, will result in a cherished gift filled with indelible moments.

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