Charles Dickens wrote, “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 about Ebenezer Scrooge and his visits with the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. The Ghost of Christmas Future shows Mr. Scrooge a scene where his belongings are being divided and sold among strangers who knew that Scrooge was a miserly kind of guy. In that scene, the two meanings of Legacy are exhibited: First the financial Legacy of the actual property, money and personal effects left behind for the surviving family as determined by lifetime gifting, by will, by trust, or by intestacy. Second the Legacy of the reputation the decedent leaves behind; whereas in the case of Scrooge, his Legacy reputation was that of the miserly, miserable person known as “Scrooge.”
Scrooge was given another chance to make changes in his life and he started by giving away some of his potential financial legacies when he woke up that fated Christmas morning. I hope he would have straightened out his estate plan or at least established a trust – but Dickens doesn’t explain the later chapters of Scrooge’s life. But if you are able to read these words and have not yet made the will or trust you wanted, just like with Scrooge, there is still time.
As an Atlanta Trusts Lawyer and an Atlanta Estate Planning Lawyer, I encounter a lot of people who say they want to get a will or a trust. Google search shows that a little more than 30% of the eligible population have any estate planning documents, but nationally, 70% of people have life insurance. Life insurance is easy to get, but it’s a little harder to write your own will. If life insurance pays out to a minor child beneficiary because that child’s parents passed away, a will that explains how a trustee would spend the life insurance money on behalf of the surviving young children sure would be helpful – otherwise, insurance money for orphaned kids will need to be litigated for a judge to establish a trust for the kids. Most life insurance policies will not be paid out but most final wills will be used. The premium fees for life insurance will most likely exceed the legal fees for will or trust preparation. It just seems to make sense to get the estate plan with a will or trust if there is already life insurance in effect and children in the home. In fact, in this season of giving, it may be the best gift you can give yourself now and later to your family by will or trust. In this season of New Year’s resolution, resolve to not be like Scrooge looking at his Legacy among strangers through the eyes of the Ghost of Christmas Future.