Gift Your Wisdom First… Then Your Wealth

Introducing the concept of a Collaborative Will

At a farm convention in Chicago, I was approached by an audience member who explained that gifting a working farm to her children was preferable to selling and leaving them each $5 million. When I pressed her for more details – such as – “what do your children think of your plan?” She snapped her head back and proclaimed, “why would I tell them?”

I have to confess it wasn’t the first time that I had heard someone say that silence was going to be the key ingredient of their estate plan. It got me thinking how many beneficiaries – children especially — truly know the contents of their parent’s wills?

When I put the question to my audiences, “how many people hold a copy of their parents’ wills?” Only 10% on average acknowledge they do. The more interesting question is: “how many in the audience will play a lead or significant role in providing care for an aging parent?” The response — an average of 75% — agreed they would. I find the disparity between these two pieces of data, striking.

The relationship between inheriting money and the provision of health care is an issue moving into the media and cultural spotlight for two major reasons – we’re living longer (a lot longer) and the cost of health care and assisted living are rising faster than inflation and saving rates.

For some who live much longer than the average age of 76 for men and 81 for woman, many will turn to family for financial support and care when their savings are fully depleted – the same family from whom secrets were kept when a surplus seemed assured.

Why do so many people keep secrets from those who will likely be providing them with late in life care? How do secrets serve beneficiaries or add to relationships before we become old and dependant? Talk to enough estate planning professionals and they’ll tell you it almost always comes down to a lack of trust and a debilitating fear of death.

For those who view their money as an absolute source of power and control you can see how the aging process and the concomitant relinquishing of power and control makes dying and death such a wretched, fearful experience. Compare that to individuals who seriously prepare family, friends and charitable organizations to receive not just their wealth but their wisdom and you’ll find some extraordinary relationships built purposefully over a lifetime – even when years outstrip savings.

Sharing the contents of a will requires judgment – some might call it wisdom nurtured over time. A wisdom both taught and harvested through conversations with intended beneficiaries not in the last year of life, when death seems imminent, but precisely the opposite, when death is a distant abstraction.

A will doesn’t need to be seen as a solo “end of life document” but rather a collaborative work of art monumentally improved by living in relationship with our intended beneficiaries.

It is the act of collaboration, supported through frequent and deliberate conversation about the future that we leave something more valuable than just our money. This is, in part, how our fear of death recedes when we know with confidence that our beneficiaries—our emissaries — will take our ideas and perhaps our surplus assets at death and live purposeful lives themselves.

Have you shared the contents of your will with your intended beneficiaries – the ones likely to be providing late in life care for you?

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