Most people would rather not think about their, albeit inevitable, death. Instead, they treat it as if it were an unfounded rumor or Facebook misinformation. Clients, usually husbands, in an estate planning conference, will often say “If I die. . .” Apparently, they have not accepted the fact that on the back of their birth certificate is a death certificate. So, estate planning for the importance of being remembered is something to think about.
If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write something worth reading or do things worth the writing. (B Franklin)
This myopia about death often distracts a person from giving serious thought to their legacy. Someday, when that unfounded rumor proves to be true, how they will be remembered, will become very important.
Leaving a legacy (in a sense transcending one’s mortality) is an important part of a person’s life cycle. In his book, “The Denial of Death” psychologist Ernest Becker, describes how, when facing death, a person’s greatest fear is they will be forgotten. Knowing their significance in life will be remembered when they’re gone can give a dying person inner peace.
American Indians believe as long as a person’s story is told they would “live” on in the hearts of loved ones. The heart’s “Lamp of Memory” requires fuel, and how best to harvest and tell a person’s story (the “fuel”) is the challenge.
Another expert in the field of legacy is Barrie Baines, MD, the Medical Director of a Minneapolis Hospice. Dr. Baines champions the ancient tradition of a person leaving a testament, or legacy letter, about their life. LivingWisely.org This practice of leaving what is sometimes called an “Ethical Will” has its roots in the Old Testament Bible.
Genesis Chapter 49, tells of Jacob, on his death bed bestowing a “blessing” on each of his sons. Numerous examples of this tradition exist in Old and New Testament Bibles, as well as secular literature and history.
So, unlike a legal will that bequeaths material possessions, an Ethical Will has no legal force or effect. However, it does offer a means to share ones intellectual and spiritual assets, their life reflection and story. It can document last wishes, serve as a guide for or provide aspirational instructions to loved ones.
Dr. Baines has long observed how creating such a testament gives his Hospice patients great comfort as they face death. He encourages his hospice patients to create a “legacy letter” as a part of what he calls a person’s “Legacy Journey.”
And that is why estate planning for the importance of being remembered is something to consider.
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