Although the word “inheritance” usually conjures up images of property or accounts with significant monetary value, you can leave your family an even longer-lasting inheritance by doing these seven things, whether or not your bank account is overflowing.
- Make a Plan
Often, people who do not have a lot of money think that it is unnecessary to have an estate plan. After all, what is an estate plan without an estate? Yet estate planning is more than making sure a person's wealth passes to the next generation. It also involves making your wishes known with regard to certain items of property, burial arrangements, and end-of-life care decisions. Family relationships have been irreparably damaged over the question of who gets the homemade Christmas tree ornaments, and children have agonized over how much to spend on their parent's casket and other burial arrangements, not wanting to skimp on something they feel represents their love for their parent.
Your family can have peace of mind knowing with certainty that they are carrying out your wishes if they have a crystal clear understanding of what those wishes are. Whether or not you have much money, you can leave an important legacy to your family simply by making a plan.
- Avoid Unnecessary Expenses
Although a number of things are more important than money, there is nothing wrong with preserving the money you have. You can leave more money in your family's hands by avoiding unnecessary estate administration expenses such as probate. If you own real property, such as a home, you can avoid probate by creating a trust and transferring your property into the trust or by using a transfer-on-death document, if your state's law allows that. If you have bank accounts, retirement accounts, or life insurance policies, you can avoid probate by using payable-on-death designations, transfer-on-death registrations, and beneficiary designations or by transferring the accounts into a trust.
If your estate's value is below a certain limit, small-estate proceedings allow the transfer of property by a simple affidavit, but the limit amounts vary from state to state, so it is important to understand what your state's limits are and rely on the affidavit option only as a last resort. Spending a small amount of effort up front by using such types of designations can save a lot in later expenses and delays.
- Write Personal Letters
Aside from the time it takes, writing personal letters to your family members costs little or nothing, but such letters can be far more valuable than vast amounts of money. Personal letters could share stories, give encouragement, provide advice, or express emotions. For example, a grandparent could write a letter to a grandchild commemorating a special occasion in that grandchild's life (such as high school graduation) with the grandparent's memories of the grandchild and expressions of love and admiration for the grandchild's talents and qualities. This type of personal letter will be a family treasure that will endure long after any possession that money can buy.
- Family Traditions
Family traditions are a wonderful and lasting legacy. What makes them even more wonderful is that they can be completely tailored to your family's interests and priorities, they can be started at any time, and they do not have to cost a lot of money. Many traditions revolve around holidays, such as picnics at the lake on the Fourth of July or making Great-grandma's sugar cookies every Valentine's Day. Maybe your family has traditions around the Super Bowl or Friday night movies.
Even if you do not currently have many family traditions, it is not too late to start. Your own imagination is the only limit on creating a fun tradition that your family looks forward to and repeats regularly.
- Family Heirlooms
It is important not to underestimate the value of family heirlooms. Although heirlooms may or may not be worth much money, their sentimental value can be enormous. From Grandma's wedding dress to the trunk that Great-great-grandpa used to haul his possessions across the sea when he emigrated from Italy to the United States, such heirlooms are a treasured part of a family's legacy.
It is crucial that the story of the item's significance also be preserved so that an unsuspecting but well-meaning person does not throw the item out with the trash. So be sure to record to whom the item belonged, how it was used, and why it is important.
The adage says that a picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes, a picture is worth more than thousands of dollars. You can create a family history with pictures by snapping photos of everyday family activities as well as big family events.
Also, be sure to go through old family photos, because you may be the keeper of some of the only surviving photos of certain ancestors. Helping younger generations understand who their grandparents and great-grandparents were with pictures that can put faces to names is a valuable legacy to leave.
- Family History
A person can derive identity and much strength from knowing where they came from, what struggles and challenges their ancestors went through, and how they prevailed. Numerous websites are available to help you trace your family history back through hundreds of years. But a family history can also start with your own story, which you can preserve by writing down or making a voice recording of your personal experiences.
Children, grandchildren, and subsequent generations will consider it a great treasure to learn your thoughts about where and how you grew up, the challenges you faced, and how you persevered through them. You can also write down your memories of your parents and grandparents if they did not write their own personal histories.
Even if you do not have a lot of money to leave to your family, you can still leave them a great legacy by making a plan, avoiding unnecessary expenses, writing personal letters, leaving family heirlooms, creating family traditions memorialized with pictures, and recording your own and your family's history.