Reflecting on Legacy
Each November 11th, I bake the “Ultimate Fruitcake” in memory of my youngest sister Grace, who was killed by a drunk driver November 13th, l988. This yearly ritual of baking her favorite fruitcake fills my home with wonderful scents and helps me to recall the short life of a dearly loved sister.
One night, a long-time family friend, Jane, called to say she was thinking of me, and Grace, and my mom, Lois. Jane recalled that my mom’s laughter was so loud that it rolled across a room, and then the tears of joy usually followed. Jane was the one who sat with me through the night while my mom lay dying in palliative care. It was sweet to visit over the phone and reflect on the lives of loved ones.
I once did a roadshow with an accounting firm to talk about the “death of a farmer.” (I bet that title just makes you want to jump in a car and go!) My portion of the roadshow was to talk about leaving a lasting legacy: the final wishes, how you would like to be remembered, what to do with sentimental possessions and the family issues around money and land.
Planning Your Legacy: The “Life” Binder
It may sound odd, but I love talking about this stuff because planning your legacy is an important but often neglected topic. I’m not so good at organizing all the documents that I want to have put into place, but I have started.
I want you to start, too. You can start planning your legacy by creating a manual for your loved ones of your important documents, wishes, funeral plans, advisors, etc. Make a “life” binder that someone could grab if your home were flooding, if a loved one suddenly dies, or if some other emergency happened. Your manual should have everything your loved ones will need, with everything organized so they can easily find the information they are looking for.
Resources to Help Plan Your Legacy
If you need help preparing your life binder and planning your legacy, I recommend these resources:
- “The Lasting Legacy” workbook is from the northwest states, but it is a great workbook that you can print out to get started. Go to www.rightrisk.org and look for the Lasting Legacy Course. I would print the first 48 pages of the workbook, as the four pillars of legacy are well documented: (1) your values and life lessons, (2) personal possessions of emotional value, (3) instructions and wishes fulfillment, and (4) financial assets and real estate.
- The other downloadable resource is $10, but worth it: “The Organize Your Life Workbook” by Mary Kelly. She is keen to have you tab things in a binder and get started on giving your family the gift of peace by having all your important stuff easy to locate when disaster or death strike. Go to www.organize-you.com to get your copy. The workbook even covers things you wouldn’t likely think about. For example, do you have a listing of computer passwords and the online presence of your family?
- Visit Jolene Brown’s article “What to Do with My Body When I Die” at www.jolenebrown.com. Jolene is a farmer and speaker friend whose wit and common sense may be the kick-start you need to get things done.
- If you don’t use the internet, then go to your bank, credit union, or financial planner and ask them for an organizer for your important documents.
Sounds like a pile of work? Yes, it is, but when have women shied away from the tough stuff? Think of a reward that will motivate you to keep plugging through.
I purchased a professional label machine, colored sticky tabs, and use colored index dividers to help with the organizing job. I also have a red file called “funeral plans” that I save funeral bulletins in. This file has been shared on more than one occasion to help plan memorials.
Your Legacy Starts While You’re Alive
Have you noticed that some folks are very sure that their legacy will not include a funeral service? I think that’s a bad call, and a huge threat to undermining the value of grieving as family, friends, and community. I think we need to find ways to honor and celebrate folks while living, such as parties to tell them how great they are, and also think of how we wish to be remembered. You can give your possessions away while still living, and then delight in the gratitude and stories that are shared around special items.
My mom purchased a black ranch mink coat with Grace, in the early 80’s by selling a truckload of wheat. She didn’t wear the coat much in Winnipeg, so she decided to gift it to me, five years before she died. She told me the story of the coat, wanted me to enjoy it in my rural travels, and was delighted that I got great mileage from it. She died in the middle of harvest, comatose for two weeks, with an asthma attack.
People treat me differently when I wear a black mink coat, but I really don’t dwell on that as much as I appreciate being warm in January, and remembering my Mom’s love and care for me.
Legacy Books for Your Reading List
A young widow friend told me at our pajama party that she is really thankful that she developed a relationship with a trusted financial advisor, long before her hubby’s death. She also endorses the book “Widow to Widow” by Genevieve Davis Ginsburg as an excellent read for new widows. I’ve read it too and think I should give it to widows in lieu of flowers.
I also encourage you to read “Money, Possessions and Eternity” by Randy Alcorn, which comes highly recommended by chicken farming cousins who now have new plans for their bequests. You’ll appreciate the Christian principles on stewardship, tithing, and financial tools to teach children about handling money.
If you are in a second marriage, you will also appreciate “The Cottage, The Spider Brooch, and the Second Wife: How to Overcome the Challenges of Estate Planning” by Sandy Cardy. It is written in a novel story style.
If my passion for taking control of life’s affairs could jump off this page, you might want to sit down with me and have tea and fruitcake. Since l988, I have planned four funerals. Someday my family will have to deal with my legacy as well – but I am making that easier for them by planning my legacy today.