In the end, we are all much more than our balance sheet. And yet, often this part of us, our “story” or “other legacy” is overlooked and forgotten. Last time we wrote about legacy in terms of an object representing a memory or relationship and tradition, such as the tradition of hiking with family and friends.
As we prepare wills and advance directives to offer guidance to our families and friends when the end of life arrives, we frequently spend too little time, or no time at all, thinking about another, key part of our legacy.
How will we be remembered? Sometimes our only written legacy is what appears as an obituary in a local paper. If that is all that remains, what do you want it to say?
On the surface, this question seems simple, reports Bryan Marquard, the Boston Globe Obituary editor for the last 8 years and the person largely responsible for this Article. We know who we are and so do those nearest and dearest to us. Experience teaches us, however, that reality is far more complex according to Marquard. Our own memories may not match those of the people with whom we have lived for years, let alone the recollections of those, such as children, who lived in our houses while growing up, but have now carved out their own lives, possibly many miles away, continues Marquard. The events and character traits we think define our lives may not be the first things others think of when they think of us.
Who knows us best? We do. Usually the most precise information available for an obituary was written by the subject as a book-length memoir, a shorter biographical essay, entries in diaries or journals, letters, or contributions to class histories for college or high school. Today, technology allows more people to record their memories in videos that can be posted on Internet websites such as YouTube.com. Even with the increased ease and variety of mediums to record “our story,” how many of us take the time to do so?
Marquard suggests finding a way to capture the first-person accounts of the life the writer led and the history they experienced in a way to help engage readers, family, friends and acquaintances. Something as simple as an updated resume is invaluable to an obituary writer.
Marquard goes on to say “we may think relatives remember when we changed jobs or changed addresses, and surely they remember where we went to school and what year we married. Many of us would be surprised to learn how many such details are remembered in a fuzzy fashion, if they are remembered at all, after we’re gone.” In fact, Mr. Marquard continues, “The question children most often stumble on when I’m writing an obituary about their parents is: What year did they marry? And these are ostensibly the easiest details to remember. A resume can list graduation years and a college major, but it offers no clue about whether you liked or disliked college, and how the experience shaped you.”
Why should we prepare a record our lives? Doing so helps us shape our “other legacy,” the one that goes beyond distribution of assets – who gets the house, or how should the bank accounts be divided. Capturing details of our lives while we’re still alive gives us the opportunity to say: These parts of my life were important to me. In fact, thinking about our other legacy will often inform our decisions during the balance of our lives and it may help with decisions regarding the disbursement of financial assets to our beneficiaries.
Concentrated time thinking about what’s important to you may change your plan to make large outright gifts to beneficiaries—will such gifts really benefit my child or other beneficiary? Will such a gift have a negative impact on the recipient?
How do we go about preparing our other legacy? There are many sites on the Internet, including for-profit businesses that charge a fee. Below are links to three sites the offer advice and, in some cases, a fee if you choose that route. Marquard advises you not pay for a service, but simply review some suggestions these sites offer, and go over the questions they post as prompts for how we can go about sharing our other legacy. The final link is to a paid death notice that is an example of how one person, or his family, captured his rather unusual life.
The Remembering Site charges a fee publishing an autobiography, but includes free links to scores of questions that make people to think about the details or their lives, from listing family members to recalling details about where you grew up, where you went to school, what traditions you and your family held dear on holidays. Few will have the patience to go through all the questions and write long answers to each, but looking at the list is a good exercise in establishing recollections.
Obituary Guide begins by briefly discussing practical and legal matters, such as health care directives and power of attorney, and then offers the sound advice to let your resume linger in the background. As mentioned above, the milestone dates of your life are essential; what they mean is even more important.
Live Well, Do Good offers 10 tips, among them that the first step is simply beginning to writing out your ideas. Sentences and paragraphs can be rewritten and improved, but first they must be written. Another tip is to write for yourself, rather than thinking about what others will think. Those who encounter writer’s block face few hurdles more challenging than being paralyzed by the thought of other eyes reading what you write. Think first about your own eyes.
An Internet cottage industry of sorts is emerging among people who write their own paid death notices, or family members who help them do so, and everyone seems to be trying to come up with the description that is most likely to become an Internet sensation. Here is the beginning of one that recently made the rounds of websites:
William Freddie McCullough - BLOOMINGDALE - The man. The myth. The legend. Men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him. William Freddie McCullough died on September 11, 2013. Freddie loved deep fried Southern food smothered in Cane Syrup, fishing at Santee Cooper Lake, Little Debbie Cakes, Two and a Half Men, beautiful women, Reeses Cups and Jim Beam. Not necessarily in that order. He hated vegetables and hypocrites. Not necessarily in that order… To read more go to:
Many of our clients have written their own obituaries. We have had the privilege of seeing them in print and, on occasion, read at memorial services. Regardless of the medium, an obituary can fill an important role in recording a life. In the end, it may serve as one of the most important gifts to be left.