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Don't forget your legacy when you do your estate planning

When you and your attorney are crafting your estate plan, you're obviously focused on where you want your assets to go after you die -- to family members, non-profit organizations and other beneficiaries. You also need to make important decisions about how to help your heirs avoid probate and what executors to choose for various aspects of your estate.

However, even people who take great care in their estate planning often forget to ask themselves one very important question: What kind of legacy do I want to pass on to my loved ones?

A legacy isn't defined just by what organizations you leave money to. It includes your values, beliefs and what you've learned over the years. These non-financial assets may mean more to your family than any property or money you leave them.

Some people remain close to their children and grandchildren and discuss these things regularly. However, too many people end up thousands of miles away from their offspring and grow apart over the years. Many people know even less about their grandparents beyond the people they remember only as senior citizens and a few photos of them in their youth.

Leaving a written legacy document for your children and future generations doesn't have to involve penning a memoir. It can be as simple as a letter that talks about what you learned from your parents and other mentors that shaped your life and beliefs and what values you hope your heirs will carry on.

Studies have shown that young people who know about their heritage have greater self-esteem, better coping skills and more empathy. Why have celebrities flocked to shows like "Finding Your Roots" and "Who Do You Think You Are?" No matter how successful you are, there's a need to know where you came from.

Beyond a written or spoken document, people often leave artwork that's been significant to them, books they've found inspiring and record albums they've treasured. It's one thing to simply bequeath those to your heirs. It's another to explain why they were important in your life and why you hope future generations will have an appreciation for them.

If you're not sure where to start on the legacy portion of your estate, there are plenty of resources online. Your California family law attorney can likely provide some guidance as well.

Source: Kiplinger, "Does Your Estate Plan Have a Gaping Hole?," Laura A. Roser, accessed Dec. 06, 2017

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