In helping people and families with their wills, trusts, and probate issues, I often find that there is a lot of emotion involved and sometimes actual “payback” in the way that people arrange their estate plans or handle probate. There are central emotional feelings of love, betrayal, generosity, parsimony, anger, acceptance, and gratitude that come into play in the making of a solid estate plan. These emotions and feelings are at the surface when one’s time is near. How those emotions manifest makes an impression on everyone affected by that person, their plan or their probate. Some people can appear to be downright meanwhile others can be unfailingly giving of themselves and of their assets. Which people do you think are happier? It’s not a new concept: “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.” That quote is about 2000 years old.
Imagine living life “with malice toward none and with charity toward all.” The first Republican president uttered those words – and strangely enough to our modern sensibilities – he actually lived by those words. When his close adviser and cabinet member Salmon P. Chase repeatedly betrayed Lincoln by working behind Lincoln’s back to seek his own nomination for president, Lincoln showed no malice toward Chase and treated Chase with nothing but kindness and respect – even when Lincoln knew of Chase’s betrayals. That’s charity! Lincoln later even made Chase the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court – not because he had to, but because Lincoln knew that Chase would be best for the American people as the Chief Justice. The way in which Lincoln would deal with those who betrayed him often resulted in the betrayer becoming Lincoln’s friend and sometimes even a life-long devotee. Who, in these times, actually has that kind of power?
Guess what lenient personal judgment of others is also known as? CHARITY. It’s not just about giving money to one’s church or to a 501(c)(3) for a tax deduction. When Lincoln was talking about ‘charity toward all’, it was the ideal that Americans could live with each other in peace and accept each other even if they had different beliefs and political leanings. He should know, the year was 1865 and the Civil War had just come to a close.
It was actually Lincoln celebrating Thanksgiving, as we now know it, during the Civil War that started the “practice” of Thanksgiving. Congress did establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1941, but it was George Washington that originally established the first day of Thanksgiving by proclamation in 1789. It’s interesting that Lincoln established a personal practice of having Thanksgiving in the White House in November, during the Civil War, when it was not a national holiday or practice to do so. Most people would think there is not much to be thankful for during a Civil War, but Abe Lincoln was not like most people. It seems he needed to express his gratitude and host a Thanksgiving meal before it was a national custom.
Personally, I’ve been a bit fixated in the last year on having an “attitude of gratitude” and taking nothing for granted. It’s not easy, but I must report: the grateful attitude has had great results including more happiness, peacefulness, volunteering, and kindness toward others. Focusing always on the positive, always paying it forward, and not seeking payback is what I have found to be the elements found in the best estate plans, probates and legacies left by the departed.