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Leaving a Legacy for Your Heirs by Writing One

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Most consider estate planning to be focused on ensuring that your assets are passed onto to your heirs based upon your wishes and not those of the government.

You work with a qualified and reputable estate-planning attorney to translate your wishes for property to be passed on at the time of your death into legally binding contracts, plans and wills. Many times this is done in conjunction with your financial advisor who can ensure the titling of accounts and trusts are structured based on these plans as well.

Thus when you’re gone, your assets are dispersed based upon your wishes. But is that all that you’ll leave behind? Will your possessions be the only legacy that you leave to your heirs and friends?

Of course not.

One of the most wonderful things that I’ve gathered from friends, family and others has been their stories and own personal histories that live on beyond their time here. Many times these are captured by audio and video recordings, or simply on the written page.

Alan Gelb, one of America’s best writing coaches, has written a book called “Having the Last Say: Capturing Your Legacy in One Small Story” that helps people to write a personal history that can be passed on to the next generation.

Gelb likens the capturing of this personal history to the Jewish tradition of an “ethical will.” “A Jewish ethical will (in Hebrew, “Zava’ah”) is a document that is designed to pass ethical values from one generation to the next,” Gelb points out.

However, Gelb feels that taking an approach, which he calls the “last say,” builds upon this tradition. He says, “The primary purpose of a ‘last say’ is to help confer and gain perspective on the life that you have lived. The ‘last say’ provides a vehicle by which people can do this work in a way that’s easy to understand and master. It retains the purpose of an ethical will, which is to pass ethical values from one generation to the next, but it looks to the narrative form to create a more engaging reading and listening experience.”

It’s in the creation of a narrative that Gelb has seen so many stumble and avoid creating their last say. Many people want to leave behind their stories and beliefs to exist as part of the family history that can be enjoyed and valued for years. But so many try to do this, and they struggle with writing it, and often their attempts to do this are left unfulfilled. The family is left with wonderful memories, but no written history.

Gelb outlines in his book how people can overcome the fear and anxieties of writing through his years as a leading writing coach. He provides the tools and keys to get people unstuck in their writing to help them to begin and complete the process of completing their last say.

When people have these tools and recognize the value that this will provide to other family members, Gelb finds that many people, who never consider themselves writers, can create a compelling narrative and “last say” that is a blessing for their entire family.

One day, we may see estate planners go beyond the financial aspects of transitioning just assets for people and provide the capabilities for people to include their last say as part of their overall estate plan. It will be more valuable than the assets that they pass on, and will probably last longer as well.

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