What to Leave in Your Will: Culture & Values

Estate Planning

Leave cultural values in your Will.

Estate plans can designate real property, personal items, and financial assets to named individuals, and can also impart how the estate plan creator wants to be remembered. People care about their personal values. What we value and how we spend our time defines our lives. Family or individual values can be viewed as a legacy that can be preserved with a proper estate plan.

Houses, collections, and other assets have a specific financial value. However, how much each particular asset is worth and equally dividing property among beneficiaries may not be the primary concern of an individual creating a Will.

Celebrity deaths often draw attention to how estates were managed: Who was named? What was left to them? What was the property worth?

Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s estate plan answers a different question: What did he value?

Hoffman created a trust for his son that included the following provision that reflects his personal values and desire to ensure his son’s exposure to cultural experiences:

…it is my strong desire…that my son, COOPER HOFFMAN, be raised and reside in or near the borough of Manhattan in the State of New York, or Chicago, Illinois, or San Francisco, California, and if my guardian cannot reside in those cities, then it is my strong desire, and not direction, that my son, COOPER HOFFMAN, visit these cities at least twice per year throughout such guardianship. The purpose of this request is so that my son will be exposed to the culture, arts, and architecture that such cities offer.

How can one preserve one’s values in an estate plan?

Instructions or “letters of wishes.” Guardians and fiduciaries may receive detailed instructions prepared by the decedent (as above). An estate planning attorney can advise how to include specific provisions so that the decedent’s wishes are carried out. These provisions are not legally enforceable and other tools may be a better fit for an individual’s needs.
Trust provisions. Trusts can be created with specific provisions that may require beneficiaries to satisfy certain requirements before receiving distributions. These provisions are enforceable under law, unlike letters of wishes.
Revise. Schedule routine reviews of your estate plan to make sure the language accurately reflects your values. Time, circumstances, and life changes may alter your intentions.

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