Your turn — Establish your legacy

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2022

There’s a lot to celebrate in August. Fun days include Ice Cream Sandwich Day (August 2) and National Tooth Fairy Day (August 22). Historically important observances include Women’s Equality Day (August 26), which honors the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment extending the right to vote to women. In addition, month-long observances bring awareness to many important medical and social issues.

I’d like to talk about one of them. August is National Make-a-Will Month.

Estimates vary regarding how much older generations will leave to heirs over the next quarter of a century. One recent report suggested $84 trillion would change hands. Yet, according to statistics, more than half of Americans do not have a will. It’s understandable. Thinking about the end of life and making plans for your legacy can seem a little gloomy. It may even feel frightening. Nevertheless, it is a crucial task because a will ensures that a person’s final wishes are observed.

Irrespective of how much wealth you have (or don’t have), or how long you expect to live (even if it’s a very long time), wills are important. The notion of estate planning may conjure up images of huge bank accounts, but the process refers to making preparations for all the things you care about, big and small. Wills do address monetary assets, but they also do much more. If you have children who are still minors, a will can nominate guardians. Wills can also express your wishes regarding pet care, social media accounts, or funeral arrangements. If you do not have a will, the court system will make these and other important decisions on your behalf through a process that may be slow and expensive.

For people who already have wills, National Make-a-Will Month provides the perfect opportunity to review and update documents if necessary. Make sure your wishes are still accurately reflected and that the designated executor or personal representative is still the best person for the job. Also, make sure beneficiary designations for things such as retirement or investment accounts or life insurance policies are up to date.

If you need help getting started, financial planning organizations offer many suggestions. For example, begin by talking to your heirs. Family meetings can help everyone express their thoughts and learn about what to expect. Decide who will fill important roles in carrying out your wishes. Consider creating a family mission statement to highlight your shared sense of purpose, and talk about charitable giving and other philanthropy goals.

Wills that include planned giving for nonprofit organizations help contribute toward the future sustainability of communities. Organizations working in diverse arenas, such as healthcare, education, arts, science, religion, social justice, and so much more, are better able to focus on their missions when they are fiscally stable. And, it’s actually easy for your family to create a lasting legacy that supports activities aligned with the things you care about the most.

Not having a will means your heirs may have to deal with complicated processes, lengthy court procedures, and legal expenses or taxes that may have been avoidable. In addition, thinking about your family’s legacy can help you focus on living in a way that is aligned with your priorities. This month, demonstrate your loving care for your family by taking steps to write or update your will.

DR. QUENTIN R. JOHNSON is president of Southside Virginia Community College, which covers 10 counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at quentin.johnson@ southside.edu.