Unless you keep close track of obscure holidays and observances, you probably didn't know that August is "What Will Be Your Legacy? Month." Still, you might want to use this particular month as a useful reminder to take action on what could be one of your most important financial goals: leaving a meaningful legacy.
A legacy isn't simply a document or a bunch of numbers - it's what you will be remembered for and what you have left behind that will be remembered. It's essentially your chance to contribute positively to the future, whether that means providing financial resources for the next generation, helping those charitable organizations whose work you support, or a combination of both.
To create your legacy, you'll need to do some planning. And you can start by asking yourself a couple of key questions:
What are your goals? When you think about leaving a legacy, what comes to mind? First and foremost, you may well want to leave enough money to help your own grown children meet their financial goals. After that, you probably have other things you'd like to accomplish. Perhaps you want to provide resources for your grandchildren to attend college? Or set up a scholarship at your own alma mater? Give financial support to a cultural, social, religious or scientific group? By thinking about your goals and putting them on paper, even in an informal sense, you'll be taking the important first step in leaving the legacy you desire.
How can you turn your goals into reality? If you don't take some concrete steps, your legacy just won't materialize. And the most important step you need to take is to create a comprehensive estate plan. Your estate plan can be quite involved, because it may involve several legal documents, such as a will, living trust, health care power of attorney, and so on. In creating these materials, you will need to work with your legal and tax advisers because estate planning is definitely not a "do-it-yourself" endeavor.
You probably shouldn't wait until you are deep into retirement to take action on your estate plan because developing the necessary documents and arrangements can take a fair amount of time - and you'll want to make these preparations when you're in good mental and physical health. Also, the longer you wait to set up your estate plan, the less likely it will be that you've communicated your wishes clearly to your family members, who may end up unsure about what you want and what their roles are in carrying out your plans -and that's an outcome you certainly don't want to see.
In fact, clear communications are essential to developing a successful estate plan. You should not only tell your family members - and anyone else affected by your estate plan - what you are thinking of doing but also inform them about the professionals with whom you are working and the locations in which you are storing any vital documents, such as your will.
By identifying your goals, working with the appropriate professionals to create an effective estate plan and communicating regularly with your family members and other "key players" in your life, you can go a long way toward leaving the legacy you desire.
So, do what it takes to launch that legacy.
This column was written by Edward Jones staff for use by the local Edward Jones financial adviser.