Inheriting wealth sounds good. Most of us at one time or another have dreamed of a forgotten distant relative whose unexpected bequest eases our financial burdens or provides an opportunity to do something we always wanted to do but couldn’t afford.
But the reality of inheriting wealth can be conflicting emotions. Heirs may be unprepared for the range of feelings they experience with an inheritance. These may include guilt, doubt, excitement, and the responsibility of managing new found wealth. They may wonder about their obligation to use the inherited wealth in a manner consistent with the values and hopes of the deceased relative or friend.
One way to ease this burden of anxiety from landing on your heirs is to incorporate a legacy letter in your estate plan.
Legacy letters are informal documents. They express personal values, offer encouragement, and transmit knowledge or hopes. In general, they leave a qualitative legacy, separate from monetary or property bequests. They lack the legal force of a will or formal estate plan, but clearly help heirs understand the hopes and wishes of those who have gone on before.
Legacy letters can be as short as a few paragraphs or as long as desired. Yours can be handwritten, an electronic document, or even a video. You can change it any time prior to your death, or update it along with your estate documents.
What can writing a letter to your heirs accomplish? Among other things, writing a legacy letter to your heirs can help:
- Complement an estate plan by explaining why decisions were made;
- Transmit your values, whether they relate to family, money, spiritual matters or philanthropy;
- Ensure all the beneficiaries are informed about important matters, reducing the risk of conflict over the distribution of the estate;
- Offer guidance on dealing with family members, multi-generational business plans, or charitable accounts;
- Express gratitude and love, share family stories, relay lessons learned, and make known hopes and wishes regarding how the legacy can be carried on.
Writing such a letter can be intuitively appealing, but somewhat intimidating in practice. We’d suggest outlining key points, and doing a draft or two before finalizing. The most effective letters are those that communicate core values and address the personal impact of new wealth.
Investec advisors help clients with identifying essential aspects of their estate plans—who will inherit what and how. Communicating the “why” of those decisions can be just as vital for heirs. Talk to your estate attorney about incorporating your legacy letter with your other estate documents.
Disclaimer: This is only intended to provide a general overview of important estate planning concepts. This document is not intended nor should it be considered as legal advice. Investec Wealth Strategies and its advisors do not provide legal advice. Since estate laws are always subject to interpretations and possible changes in the future, we recommend that you seek the counsel of your attorney concerning your specific situation.