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How to use estate planning to leave a legacy beyond what you own

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Actress Edie Falco pays tribute to the late James Gandolfini onstage during the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on September 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Actress Edie Falco pays tribute to the late James Gandolfini onstage during the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on September 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Your "estate" is made up of everything you own—from your personal possessions, furniture, mementos, and artwork, to your home, car, bank accounts, and insurance,.

Estate planning so commonly focuses on your stuff and on your loved ones. But does that really cover it all? What about you—who you are and your values, insights, stories, and experiences?

Your wealth is much more than just your financial assets and estate planning should be more than about simply who gets what. Your wealth includes not just what is tangible but what is intangible. If you had a voicemail from a parent shortly before they passed, how much would it matter to you to save that voicemail forever? And how devastated would you be if it were accidentally erased?

The purpose of estate planning is to give you control over the many things that matter to you, from your assets, to guardianship of your minor children, to preserving who you are so children and grandchildren can continue to learn and grow from you long after you have passed. But if you search online for "estate planning," many of the articles and posts that come up focus on the assets only. See for example an article entitled What is Estate Planning; what this article is missing is any reference to your intangible wealth that will be so cherished by your children and grandchildren if you take the time to preserve it.

How can you preserve your intangible wealth? The most common way is to do a video or audio recording of you with your spouse or partner talking about the values that are important to you, life lessons you want your children to learn, and your religious or spiritual beliefs about the origins of life and who we are. Doing a video is on many people's to-do lists but unfortunately never get checked off.

When considering who to hire as an estate planning attorney, ask about how they help you preserve not just your physical assets but your intellectual and personal assets as well. If the attorney is focused on merely drafting documents rather than providing trusted counsel and guidance, then they're not the right attorney for you.

But if your attorney values both the tangible and intangible and has a mechanism for helping you preserve what would be lost at each generation, then that attorney is worth talking to.