I love practicing law in West Michigan because it puts me in touch with some really wonderful and humble people. You would feel the same way too if you had a chance to hear how a number of my clients discuss sharing their earthly belongings in their final statement — their Trust or Will.
Some clients are shy, almost to the point of embarrassment, about how much money they want to leave to a cause, an organization, a family member or friend. For many of these clients, the amount of bequest won’t place their names on the scrolling credits of a PBS television special or play prominently in the annual report of a local foundation.
Yet in the name of legacy, my clients often stipulate that a few hundred or thousand dollars go to someone or something they support.
Whenever I have a conversation with a client on this topic, I am reminded that material wealth is but one part of the legacy. The heart of leaving a legacy comes from the act of giving the gift itself, regardless of the size of the contribution. A few thousand dollars left for a needy nephew to attend college may only pay for a few credit hours, or a few hundred dollars left to the Humane Society may only fund a week’s worth of pet food at the shelter. But a legacy makes a statement about what the giver finds important in life.
Most of my discussions about legacy are with my older clients, so I get the opportunity to briefly view the world through their eyes. I have observed that the desire to leave a legacy usually is not driven by wealth accumulation — but by the wisdom gained through the different stages of life. Through that wisdom one often gains a more heightened sense of one’s own mortality, aided by the fact that the daily concerns of building a career and raising children no longer consume substantial amounts of time.
Regardless, I have learned one important lesson: one’s legacy does not have to be large to be meaningful. A legacy can be borne of a modest weekly church contribution or an annual donation to a favorite charity – by themselves, these payments are relatively small, but in aggregate, they become substantial. For many local nonprofits or charities, these bequests support a significant portion of the annual operating budget.
Almost every estate planning client I work with will have at least one provision in the Trust or Will for a donation to a church or charity. Leaving a legacy — no matter how large or small — is a common practice that gives my clients a sense of pride. And as the saying goes: “Good things come in small packages.”