Although it has several meanings, your "legacy" is what you leave behind as a remembrance of you after you die. Your will, or last will and testament, has a direct connection to your legacy, so you should know some things about how it works.
Wills and Legacies
A will is written document where you tell the world who you want to get your property and assets after you die. The people you give your belongings to are called beneficiaries. It's a bit more complicated than jotting down some notes on a piece of paper, and there are all sorts of rules and laws to follow, but that's it in simple terms.
Hopefully without confusing matters, you should know that, in the legal world, legacy means something very specific. A legacy is a gift or "bequest" of particular property to a particular beneficiary in your will. So, you can see how your legacy - how you'll be remembered - is tied directly to your will.
There's practically no limit on what you can give and to whom. For instance, you can give a:
- Specific item of jewelry to your child, grandchild, or sister
- Piece of real estate to your local government for the purpose of building a park
- Specific amount of money to your favorite charity
- Prized piece of art to a museum or school
One limitation, however, is that your gift can't be for an illegal purpose. Take the real estate example above. If your will states that the park is for "white people only," a court won't honor the bequest because it discriminates against non-white people.
As mentioned, there are many rules and requirements that need to be followed for your will to be valid legally. These rules vary from state to state, so you should look at the laws in your area or talk to an attorney to make sure your will is done properly. However, in general, you need to be at least 18 years old, and your will must be in writing and signed by you and by witnesses. It also needs to include certain language, such as a statement that you're of "sound mind."
Protect Your Legacy
What happens if you die without a will? Special laws in your state, called "intestacy" laws, determine who gets your worldly belongings. Your legacy may be lost.
Other Keys To Your "Legacy"
August is "What Will Be Your Legacy Month." While it serves as a reminder for all of us to think about our wills, it's also a reminder for us all to shape our legacies today and everyday. Our daily activities and interactions with others today have a huge impact on what people will think of us when we're gone.
There are dozens of ways to build and leave a positive and lasting legacy. Simple, "little things," like:
- Spending quality time with family and friends
- Volunteering some time at your child's school and passing down some of your knowledge and experiences to future generations
- Supporting your favorite charity by volunteering some time or making money donations
- Smiling and saying hello to people you pass on the street or in the grocery store
- Holding open the door for your co-workers
- Listening to others and helping them solve their personal problems
How do you want to be remembered? Taking charge of your legacy by preparing your will and having positive interactions in your daily life will go a long way towards making sure you're remembered in kindly.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I ever need to change or update my will? When?
- I just moved to this state. Is my will still good or do I need new one?
- How can I make sure my children make good decisions when it comes to using the property and assets I leave them in my will?