On November 7, 1988, President Reagan said "Now, what Vice President Bush and I have done with the economy is very important, and it must continue. But what we believe in is much more than that. Our greatest treasure as a nation is our precious moral heritage: the basic values of faith and family that makes ours a great nation. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the family is the bedrock of America." (emphasis is mine)
President Reagan was getting at something that I focus on with clients. In estate planning meetings, many clients begin our meetings wanting to discuss who gets what. Before we get there, I need to know what is important to you.
To President Reagan, the country's financial success was a great accomplishment, but he recognized that what makes America exceptional, what is really important to most Americans, is not our economic wealth but our moral heritage.
Author Simon Sinek wrote a fantastic book "Start With Why" about leadership and business success. His thesis has individual and family applications as well. In trying to avoid family strife as wealth moves from one generation to the next, why a parent or loved one "left who what" is the most powerful statement they can make. Not "who gets what" but WHY who gets what. The "testament" part of a Last Will and Testament is too often not captured by my profession.
Keeping a family farm intact is a common intent but why? Perhaps it is because a distant relative took great effort to save the farm during the depression. Wanting to prevent a minor child from an inheritance is good, simple advice but why is that important? Perhaps you finally paid off your student loans shortly before you retired and you don't want your grandchildren to struggle financially just to get a college education. Maybe you trust a local non-profit to assist the poor in your area more than you trust politicians (ahem) and you would rather eat a bag of broken glass than pay one red cent in estate taxes.
What is most important to you? What is your "why"?