Money may be the most commonly discussed type of wealth contained within a person’s estate, but the riches of their experience and wisdom can mean even more to family members down the line. Reinforcement of family traditions can be built into an estate plan alongside your wishes regarding your money, property, and personal items. After all, what really makes a family a family is its values and traditions — not necessarily the money in the bank account.

One idea that has gained popularity is to hold a family meeting in which you discuss the sorts of things that matter to you most. In addition to the value of sharing your wisdom, you may also make it more likely that your heirs will handle their inheritance correctly if they understand the reasoning behind your choices. This is just one of many reasons to have a family discussion about your legacy and your estate plan.

How to tell your story through your estate plan

It is fulfilling to be able to hear your parent’s and grandparent’s stories of their fondest memories and adventures, as well as the struggles they overcame to get the family where it is today. This wisdom provides meaning for a financial legacy that otherwise might just be viewed as a windfall. As part of your estate and legacy planning, you can decide to record your own personal history. Here are a few ways:

● Audio files: With the broad range of audio formats available today, you can record in the way that’s easiest for you – anything from a handheld cassette recorder (believe it or not – these do still exist – and I know attorneys who still dictate letters using them) to the Voice Memos app on your iPhone. There are some easy-to-use digitizing services that can compile your stories into audio files to make available to your family and descendants.

● Video files: The same goes for home movies and other video recordings. Older film formats can be easily digitized and organized along with the videos from your phone. Today’s technology also makes it easier than ever to add narration (which may provide helpful context) to a video, making the story all the richer.

● Photo albums: Many families have photo collections that catalog generations. It’s a disaster when something like this is lost in a fire or extreme weather event, or even misplaced in a move. Creating a digital database is a favor to your family in more ways than one: Not only will they have access to these memories at any time, they can also feel secure knowing that these family keepsakes won’t be lost anytime soon and that multiple copies can be made for the different branches of the family.

● Letters and other writings: If you enjoy writing, you can also include handwritten or typed letters of stories to your family members in your legacy plan to be received and read at the time of your choosing. You may also wish to include past letters and postcards that have been tucked away in the attic. It’s not only personally fun to relive the memories of the past by reviewing your old letters and postcards, but it’s also a great way for your children and grandchildren to have a window into your formative years.

Passing your values to the next generation

Most estate planning strategies blend your finances with your personal values. For example, we might have a discussion on some of your personal values. Whether you feel most passionate about the need for your beneficiaries to travel and gain worldly experience, continue a unique family tradition like sailing or astronomy, or support meaningful charitable or spiritual work, we can draft trusts that contain funds specifically set aside for these endeavors.

● Educational trusts: If you value higher education, you might want to set up a trust to fund undergraduate and graduate degrees, medical school, or studies abroad for your family’s future generations. Because of sharp increases in educational costs within the U.S., your grandchildren will likely stand to benefit immensely from an educational trust.

● Incentive trusts: Similar to the way educational trusts set aside wealth for the purpose of funding a beneficiary’s schooling, incentive trusts can also help steer the course of your descendants’ lives be encouraging some paths while discouraging others. For example, an incentive trust could contain instructions for disbursements to be released when the beneficiary is working a part or full-time job. Or if family vacations were an important part of your upbringing, you could set aside funds specifically for your grandchildren to experience the same wonderful tradition you enjoyed.

● Charitable trusts or foundations: Charitable trusts or foundations establish a family legacy of supporting a cause, but they also have the added financial benefit of reducing income and estate taxes. They are an excellent way to help a charitable organization that’s central to your core values and make your name associated with that philanthropic effort for generations to come.

While there are many options available for estate planning these days, having an experienced estate planning attorney is one of the most important decisions you can make. Don’t use “do it yourself” estate planning. If you are you curious about exploring a few of these options in your estate plan, don’t hesitate to give us a call today.  We can schedule a free initial consultation to go over your many options for showcasing your memories and values in a long-lasting way that truly benefits your heirs.

Zach Wiegand is a Burnsville, Minnesota estate planning attorney who also handles probate in Dakota County and other counties in the greater Twin-Cities area. Zach is the owner of Gold Leaf Estate Planning, LLC, which is a Minnesota estate planning law firm that handles probate and trust administration in Eagan, Burnsville, Apple Valley, Prior Lake, Lakeville and the Twin Cities South Metro. Zach was named a 2017 Minnesota Super Lawyer – Rising Star and he is a member of WealthCounsel – a national organization of estate planning attorneys dedicated to practice excellence. You can contact Zach via e-mail at or by calling (952) 658-6503. Gold Leaf Estate Planning is located in Burnsville at 3000 County Road 42 W., Suite 310, Burnsville, MN 55337.


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