How to Construct a Complete Estate Plan

How to Construct a Complete Estate Plan

Estate planning traditionally focuses on your financial assets.

But when you think about what matters most, is it your car, home, or bank account? Of course not. The only reason those assets have any value is you’ve assigned meaning to them. You hope, for example, when you give money to your children, it will be used to improve their lives. Although this outcome can be difficult to direct.

What non-financial things matter most to you? What pieces of yourself do you want as a part of your heritage?

When you organize your will, trust, and other legal documents, don’t forget about your memories, values, traditions, and beliefs.

Your assets can be broken into three main categories: 

  1. Character Assets: Your meaningful relationships, values, health, spirituality, heritage, purpose, life experiences, talents, and plans for giving.
  2. Intellectual Assets: Your business systems, alliances, ideas, skills, traditions, reputation, and wisdom.
  3. Financial Assets: Your physical wealth, investments, and possessions.

Financial assets are passed along through proper structuring — such as a trust or a foundation. These structures range from the simple to the complex, depending on your level of affluence and asset protection or tax planning goals. Rarely are your character and intellectual assets taken into account. Often, these assets are lost simply because there is not a structured way to identify them and pass them along.

Passing on non-financial assets is what my team and I specialize in. We’ve found that the process of structuring your character and intellectual assets to pass on to your heirs needs to be just as thought out as the process of passing on your financial assets.

Non-Financial Estate Planning Essentials 

Our Meaning Legacy™ planning process focuses on seven essential components for passing on your non-financial assets to your loved ones. They are:

  • Beliefs, Values, and Vision: Your personal principles and shared family philosophy.
  • Master Stories: Experiences that have shaped your life.
  • Systems for Living: Skills and information your family needs to thrive.
  • Experiential Bonds: Planned family traditions, outings, and bonding activities.
  • Family Heritage: Where your family came from.
  • Community Impact: Your vision for giving back to the world.
  • Public Presence: How you are perceived by the public both off-line and online.

Whether you hire a firm to help you out or decide to document these components on your own, be sure your non-financial assets receive just as much attention as your financial ones. Your family will thank you.

In his book Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper, Barry K. Baines, MD wrote, “When my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1990, I asked him to write a letter about the things he valued. About a month before he died, my dad gave me two handwritten pages in which he spoke about the importance of being honest, getting a good education, helping people in need, and remaining loyal to the family. That letter — his ethical will — meant more to me than any material possession he could have bequeathed.”

I’ve heard many people say something similar. Whether it’s a letter from a loved one, an old journal, or a film, these memories, words of encouragement, and expressions of love — in the exact words of a respected family member — connect at such a deep level that they become a treasure to the family.

Related: Finding Purpose Through Disaster

Becoming Aware 

The following questions will give you an idea about what character and intellectual assets you should include as a part of your estate plan.

Assessing Your Current Status: 

  1. Do you have photos, videos, letters, or other memorabilia that needs to be digitally archived, organized, and sent to family members?
  2. Do you know about your family tree and ancestors? Have you archived this information somewhere so your family can access it?
  3. Have you recorded your favorite memories, either via audio, video, or in writing?
  4. What tasks or skills does your family need to learn in order to pick up where you left off or live productive lives? (e.g. money management, household tasks, business systems, health guidelines, and so on.)
  5. Do you have a philanthropic vision? Have you gotten your family involved in charity work or giving to the community? How have you documented these activities?
  6. Do you have a family mission, a coat of arms, family rules, or other family systems you’d like to document?
  7. What kinds of experiences or traditions have you planned for your family? How do you plan to make them meaningful? How do you document them?
  8. When you google yourself, do you like what comes up? Are you interested in creating an online presence to encourage your family or convey a message (such as your support of a charity or to spread your love of gardening)? What kind of man or woman would you like to be publicly known as? In a world where privacy is disappearing, your online legend will become what you are known for to your friends and acquaintances as well as your family.

Once you’ve considered these questions, the next step is coming up with a plan to package up this information in a way that’s valuable to your family. Too much information can lead to a legacy of minutia. Filtering what gets passed on often becomes the most important part of the process.

Laura A. Roser
Life Transitions
Twitter Email

Laura A. Roser is the #1 expert in meaning legacy planning. She is the Founder and CEO of Paragon Road, a company that assists individuals in passing on their non-financial as ... Click for full bio

Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: March 19-23

Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: March 19-23

Here’s a look at the Top 11 Most Viewed Articles of the Week on, March 19-23, 2018

Click the headline to read the full article.  Enjoy!

1. Multi-Factor or Not Multi-Factor? That Is the Question

Let’s pretend you are a US investor that wants to deploy some of your money overseas.  You think international developed market stocks are attractive relative to US stocks, and you also think the US dollar will decline over the period you intend to hold your investment.  — Chris Shuba

2. The Lies Spread by Bankers About Cryptocurrencies

I had a chat with The Financial Times the other day, and provided lots of background as to why I don’t think cryptocurrencies are the choice of criminals. The comment that was reported was the following ... — Chris Skinner

3. Alternative Investments? You May Need New Shock Absorbers!

During the tumultuous red and green gyrations of the capital markets this year have your clients anxiously called to ask: “What’s going on with my portfolio?” What do you do when the usually smooth ride in your luxury automobile becomes as bumpy as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in the Happiest Place on Earth? What does the average investor do? — Ted Parker

4. Why Fear of Inflation Is Rattling Investors

Inflation is a bad thing, right? It make things more expensive, right? For those of us of, let’s say, a certain vintage, we recall the runaway inflation of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. So why does the Federal Reserve – in charge of managing the country’s currency and value thereof – actually try to create inflation? It’s called the inflation targeting and it matters to your money. — Bill Acheson

5. The Best Retirement Investments for a Steady Stream of Income

As you near your 60’s, your prime earning and saving years will transition into a period of time where you get to enjoy the “fruits of your labor,” a.k.a retirement. We call this segueing from accumulation to decumulation, the period when you will be drawing from your accumulated nest egg. Dana Anspach

6. An Emerging Theme In Thematic Investing

Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are popular vehicles for market participants looking to engage in thematic investing. Thematic investing looks to take advantage of future growth trends, including disruptive technologies. Given that forward-looking approach, stock-picking in the thematic universe is equally as hard, if not harder, than in traditional market segments. — Tom Lydon

7. 8 Winning Questions You Should Be Asking Every Prospect

It’s not enough for your salespeople to be product experts, they also need to be capable of having the kind of conversations that position them as business experts and even strategic resources. — Lisa Rose

8. 10 Steps to Successful Strategic Alliances

Business growth doesn’t come from wishful thinking. As you know, it takes a lot of hard work. The growth of your business is not an option – it is a necessity. Coordinating the right mix of strategies to gain market share and improve client acquisition rates is essential to advance your firm in today’s economy. — Michelle Mosher​​​​​​​

9. Keep It Light: Harnessing Humor for Financial Marketing Success

It’s undoubtedly true that investors’ financial security is no laughing matter, and this is reflected in the stolid, dour, reliable imagery and branding that is, by and large, the industry standard. This is hardly surprising—investors need to believe they’re placing their hard-earned money in the hands of experienced, trustworthy professionals. — Alexandra Levis​​​​​​​

10. Do the Economics of a Move to Independence Really Add Up?

The number one question advisors ask when exploring a move to independence is how the economics compare to accepting a recruiting package from a major firm. It’s certainly a valid concern, because while the recruiting deals being offered by the wirehouses are down, it is still very possible for a top advisor to get a really attractive hard-to-pass-up offer. — Mindy Diamond

11. Four Big Reasons Why Short-Term Muni Bonds Should Excite You

Municipal bonds might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a sexy investment. They don’t typically command news headlines like the stock market or bitcoin. — Frank Holmes

Douglas Heikkinen
Twitter Email

IRIS Co-Founder and Producer of Perspective—a personal look at the industry, and notables who share what they’ve learned, regretted, won, lost and what continues ... Click for full bio