Are You Talking to Your Family About What Matters Most?

It’s the stuff of dramatic tension in books, movies, and TV shows: who’s named in a will, who isn’t, and what money or possessions are at stake. And while most estate plans aren’t nearly that exciting, there are some cases where bequests have been outside the box:

Imagine getting a letter announcing you’d inherited a significant amount of money—from someone you’d never met. Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara, a wealthy Portuguese bachelor, randomly selected 70 names from the Lisbon telephone directory and bequeathed his fortune to these individuals.

Billionaire Leona Helmsley’s will made headlines when she left $12 million to her perhaps-aptly-named dog, Trouble (and excluded two of her grandsons, who were none too pleased).

Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, included a special gift in his will: his birthday. A friend didn’t like her December 25 birthdate, so he gave her his, November 13.

While stories like these are entertaining, they illustrate a larger point: your estate plan is less about who gets what and more about what’s important to you. You may not be leaving gifts to random strangers, your dog, or a friend who wants a better birthday (though if you want to, go for it!), your will is one of the best ways to communicate with your children and loved ones about the beliefs and values you hold dear. It shows them what matters to you so that they, in turn, can carry on that legacy in their own lives.

Here are two suggestions to get you started:

Write a Legacy Love Letter. Sometimes called an Ethical Will, a Legacy Love Letter is like a cover letter for your estate plan that outlines guiding principles, memories, stories of personal faith, and future wishes for your family.

Include a Gift in Your Will. An in-will gift clarifies your priorities and helps us continue impacting lives.

Your will is the ultimate opportunity to share what’s most important.