There is much ongoing debate about the afterlife. Some feel that there is reincarnation in many forms, some feel the end is... well, the end. Since there is a yet-to-come-back example to prove a theory, the debate shall rage on. I'd like to think there is some plan in the universe for me to look after my loved ones after I bite the big one, so I guess I and the rest of us will find out sooner or later- hopefully later!
One of the unfortunate facets of my profession is dealing with and helping folks who have suffered the loss of a loved one during their lifetime. My personal feeling is that no matter how much you prepare for the loss of a loved one, you are never prepared, and the follow through is devastating. Hopefully the dearly departed had taken the time to plan for their demise, having done their financial and estate planning well in advance of their time of departure. Unfortunately, the opposite occurs more times than I would like to see: proper estate planning was not done, settling the estate is a mess with fights and differences of opinion throughout the family, leading to disagreements that often split families apart. It all could have been avoided by the departed having done their legal documents to determine in an organized fashion who and what should and would be the recipients of the departed hard-earned assets. Oftentimes I hear "I don't have enough to do estate planning." My reply is simple- "if you have a dollar, you have an estate. Who do you want to get it when you're gone?"
If you are like most people I've met along the way, you really don't realize how much of an impact you have made on others, both during your lifetime as well as once you're gone. An act of kindness goes a long way for a long time. Take your closet for example: while it's probable stuffed with clothes you've not worn in years, there are people all around us who desperately need those same clothes. While the tax deduction may or may not be applicable to you, the case for helping others in need is far more important than the memories- they never leave you regardless of the disposition of the articles. Think about your closet, your cupboards, and your garage... the help you can do is almost limitless... but I digress. Legacy Planning is the act of planning how you choose your wealth to be distributed or utilized by others once you are gone. It's a plan to manage your wealth while you are alive, with a clear plan or path to how your wealth is to be distributed to the best advantage in your eyes. Certainly, the first utilization of your wealth is for you to have a safe and secure retirement. The plan however, is to determine how you would like it distributed after you're done with it. With proper planning, you can help multiple people with the same dollars. Pass it through to multiple generations. Help an entity with the principle eventually going to your kids or grandkids. The possibilities are endless: I always say if it's legal and its kind, go for it! It's not always about money and stuff: I've done planning where birthday cards and birthday presents continued long after the grantor was gone. You can create a scholarship for your alma-mater with a relative small amount of money... it's not just about millions- you can do it with a thousand. The key to legacy planning is just as it sounds- to create a legacy for you to be remembered for the loving, giving and kind person you tried to be, and would like to be remembered for. I see legacy planning as a long term fun-plan... you are limited only by your imagination and your desire to help others. It can be for your family, or anyone you choose. The key here is to do your planning when you are are alive, of sound mind and in a place to help others.
Legacy Planning is done usually at the same time you do your other legal documents: will, powers of attorney, living will and other legal documents your legal advisor determines in your best interest. Keep an open mind, and an open heart. Helping others is a wonderful thing: while we tend to leave our estate to our kids, you can leave 90% to your kids and help others with the remaining 10%, or any combination you choose. Be kind, be legal, and think outside the box when you do your planning- wouldn't it be nice to be remembered for the kind things you've done? That's Legacy Planning- the planning of your personal legacy.