Is a legacy different from an estate?

In a technical sense and strictly construed a legacy is a gift or bequest in a will of personal property. An estate is a person’s interests in real and personal property both before and after death. The word legacy has another meaning that adds depth and dignity to life and estate planning. In the broadest sense a legacy is a gift. For nearly twenty years I have been presenting a class to the public entitled “Your life is more than a will, leave a legacy.” I start by asking the group what is the greatest gift they ever received? The answers have been interesting and rich with all that is good in mankind. A man told me that his grandfather taught him to fish and that sport has given him pleasure all of his life. His fishing passion has also given him time to contemplate life’s great questions. Fishing is a gift he is now giving to his grandson. A women at a senior center told me she had a lovely beaded purse that her grandmother gave to her on his first date to the man she married. Her beloved husband was now deceased, but she was going to give that purse to her oldest granddaughter on her first date and tell the story of her love affair with her grandfather so that her granddaughter would chose wisely. I often say my Mother taught me to read before I started kindergarten and that gift laid the foundation for my love of books, thirst for knowledge, understanding of the world and its need for justice.

Consciously or subconsciously each of us is leaving memories and making gifts of our time, love, talents and financial resources. Movie and rock stars leave their characters, music, fame and fortune. Politicians and military leaders leave lasting marks on our history books. Others leave inventions, ideas, poetry, gardens and improved social conditions. Your example in facing disease is a legacy. Gifting is one of the most powerful forces you have to effect change. Your will can and should reflect your beliefs and values as it disposes of your money and assets and minimizes your taxes. You can achieve more than just preserving family property and planning for a grandchild’s college education. End of life planning is gift you give your loved ones so they know your wishes and are spared confusion and worry at an emotional time. You can disinherit the lazy and weak willed or encourage their reform by incentivize self-help and attendance at treatment programs. You can create a special needs trust for a disabled child or a wildlife preserve with those wetlands. You can arrange for a logically and simple transfer of a family business and thus avoid family feuds. You can memorialize friendships and reward good works. You can chastise unfulfilled promises. You can instill spiritual awareness by a dollar match challenge to pay off the church mortgage, purchase new hymnals, commission artwork or supporting another’s mission. You can sponsor a free concert in the park, plant a tree, adopt an animal at the zoo, fund scholarships or research, or food programs for the poor. You can sprinkle laughter with family photos and stories you have recorded or written to be shared at your funeral. Your estate may be large or very modest, but every life has a legacy.


Disclaimer:  Information contained in this column is meant to be of general information on frequently asked questions concerning disability, elder law, estate planning and probate law, and does not contain specific legal advice to a client.  No attorney-client relationship is created by reading this column.

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