Use "Specific Gifts" to Pass On Your Life Story

One of the purposes of writing your will or a living trust is to direct how your property is passed on and to whom. What I’ve found over the years, though, is that when people work with lawyers or even with online will writing services, there is a tendency to just focus on how their “big ticket” items of property will be passed on. For example, they’ll decide how their house, their life insurance policies or their financial investments will be divided among their surviving spouse and children.

Last Will & TestamentCredit: Daniel Wiedemann - Dollar Photo ClubWhile this is absolutely important and a major part of any estate plan, what it tends to “gloss over” are the smaller personal pieces of property in our lives that have become treasured and which have deep meaning to us.  Making a “specific gift” or legacy in an estate plan (to "bequeath" in "legalese")[1] allows you to give a piece of personal property to someone in your will or in your trust. For example, you may wish to leave your stamp collection to a nephew or your gold wedding ring to your goddaughter.

By making these types of gifts as part of your estate plan, you get a chance to pass on the memories of your life’s treasures. But, when doing so, don’t forget to tell the story behind the item so that your loved ones will always know why it’s such a treasure to you. 

Tell the Story Behind Your Gifts: Your Heirs Will Treasure Them Even More

Let me give you an example of how the "back story" behind a piece of personal property immediately changes its value to those who inherit it. Most people who know me well, know that one of my hobbies (well a passion really) is building hardwood furniture in my workshop.  I’ve probably spent countless hours over the years in my shop surrounded by my tools and my hardwoods, in front of my workbench, hand finishing an end table or “squaring up” a cabinet door. 

What many people may not know is that it was my father who started me down this road. He’s an avid “do it yourselfer” and was always building things around the house when I was growing up.

The ToolboxCredit: Andrew J GarciaWell, probably some six years back, he gave me a toolbox that he had handcrafted himself from one of my favorite types of hardwood – American black cherry. The box was fashioned with hand cut dovetails and was hand finished by him with his own recipe of linseed oil.

This toolbox means the world to me. I carry all of my favorite hand tools in it. The box is a treasure to me because it was made by my father for me to use in a passion that I had learned from him. It is a gift to me that is priceless.  It’s an heirloom because of the story behind it.

Now here’s the rub: if you take away the story behind this gift then it’s just a toolbox. Granted it’s a nice toolbox, but if you were to put that box in a yard sale you might fetch ten or twenty bucks.

Isn’t that the way with most of the personal items that are “treasures” in our life? Look around you? Think about what you treasure? What has meaning to you?

Commit the Stories Behind the Treasures to Writing as Part of Your Estate Plan

When I counsel clients these days about their estate plans and we talk about personal items that they’d like to pass on, I try to get them thinking about what the true “treasures” in their life really are and why they’ve become such treasures. And, I urge them to tell the story behind the item in writing so that their loved ones always remember why it meant so much to them. In that way, the gift will most likely become a treasure to them.

Remember – it’s the story behind life’s little treasures that make them priceless. 

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This is one of the treasured tools in my workshop. It sits in a handmade box crafted in cherry and maple woods. When you try it for the first time and the paper thin shavings begin dropping to the floor, you'll know you've found perfection.