When we prepare our estate plans, we talk to financial advisors and attorneys about money, homes, cars, and insurance. These things are very important, but they are not often the only important parts of our estates. They are often not really the things we hold most dear.
I have, over the years, asked hundreds of people about their most precious items, and no one has ever named their life insurance policy. Now, that policy is certainly important for the security of our children and spouse, but it is never mentioned as an answer to my question. Likewise, when I ask families to name the most important treasure they have received from an estate, the answer is rarely money. As a matter of fact, the answer usually costs very little.
People, particularly as we age, value memories of our loved ones. Memories are often found in the most simple places and items. I have had families tell me that they most valued a small metal frog where grandma used to hide mints, a tea set with chipped cups and no lid that they played with as children, and old pictures of the Eagle’s Nest from the War granddad took as an Army photographer (these were incredible to see). In all of these estates, and countless others, there was plenty of money to be had. But, at the end of the day, it is the personal items that elicit the most precious memories.
Unfortunately, when not properly gifted these small trinkets can also create the most tension in families. When writing estate plans, I always encourage my clients to include memorandums at the end of their Wills so that they may specifically give these types of items to chosen family members, and help to avoid any unnecessary tension.
When preparing Wills, I love placing a clause in the Will allowing the testator to attach a written memorandum to the end of the document. This allows the person to sit down at a later time and gift all kinds of special items to special people. And, as time goes forward and items are gifted or lost, the memorandum can be torn up and re-written as the testator sees fit without additional attorneys fees. These memorandums are a legal part of the Will when properly prepared and do not require the hiring of an attorney to re-write a document to gift a simple clock, gun, wedding ring or china pattern.
More importantly, these memorandums show our intent. They show the importance of our relationship with the person we leave the items to, and the items gifted quickly become very treasured memories. Memorandums also create a way to avoid what can be unfortunate tension and discourse among family members in what is the most stressful time of life, the mourning of a loved one. I encourage everyone to include these memorandums in their estate plans. And, as many of you know, if I wrote your Will, you can always call at any time and I will happily notarize your latest memorandum or send you more memorandum forms if you have used your last one.