Diwali and Estate Planning: When Family, Legacies, and Preserving Traditions Matter
Many parts of the world lit up for Diwali, or Deepavali, as the South Asian traditions with the festival of lights went global even during a pandemic. Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil – light over darkness. Every year, our founder enjoys sharing some of her nostalgic traditions of the festival from her childhood in India with her now multicultural family. This includes making clay lamps (diya) with her children, celebrating with colorful treats (mittai), adorning the family in festive traditional attire (pavada, lehnga, salwaar kameez), and decorating the house in bright holiday lights. As our extended families and communities expand and relocate, many familiar traditions, whether rooted in ethnicity, religion, nationality or uniquely to our family alone are lost over the generations. Estate planning, at its very core, is about preserving and protecting the aspects that are most important to us – creating a legacy. It is about ensuring your cherished traditions and practices may be continued – especially in the way your family is cared for, assets managed and bequeathed, and your business continued down the generations.
Every planning document, even the simplest Will tells a story – of the testator’s life and what makes them unique. This aspect of estate planning is one of the most important reasons we enjoy our work.
In your Will, you nominate who you wish to manage and distribute your assets after death (executor/executrix). If you have minor children, you nominate who you trust to care for them (guardians). Implicitly you are designating the persons you trust to follow in your footsteps, consider your relationships, your family dynamics, and what is important to you.
In your philanthropic bequests, you are entrusting the executor or trustee (if there is a trust) to give and help the organizations and missions you cared about during your life. In your Power of Attorney, you are considering your personal relationships and the assets you built and acquired to determine who you trust to manage them in case you are incapacitated or disabled (attorney-in-fact or agent). In your living will or healthcare directives, you consider your most trusted family and friends to follow and make the toughest decisions about your healthcare when you cannot do so anymore (agent for healthcare).
Estate planning can be morbid and heart wrenching but at its core, it is about your story – it is endearing because you pause to consider the things and people who matter to you the most – and once completed, it provides a sense of peace, removes uncertainty and helps you focus on the present instead of worrying about the inevitable.
Family relationships and traditions can be preserved and protected in estate planning. Who inherits and manages, how and when transfers are made, and what restrictions are placed on each aspect essentially preserve and protect the intangible aspects most important to our clients – their legacy, their traditions, and their values. Trusts, operating agreements, business entities, Wills, etc. are merely devices that let these stories endure.
Let’s take the soul of estate planning a little further. One of the recurring stories we see is the story of business entrepreneurs who succeed with admirable resilience and ambition. Consider a business entrepreneur who started with selling retail goods out of her garage and built it to a multinational empire. At the core, she always values her unending hard work hand-packaging each of her goods in her unpainted, unheated garage in the middle of winter. She wants to ensure that the soul of her business remains – she trusts the people who helped her in those initial days, and perhaps, the younger generations of her family to keep the practice philosophy alive, no matter how large the business becomes and how long it endures. Ensuring the business succession plan is catered to this success story is critical for preserving the legacy and keeping the soul of the busines intact. Who inherits the business, how it is transferred, how it is sold, what restrictions are put in place, how it is managed, are crucial to ensuring the story continues. There are many ways to accomplish this, including a series of trusts, gifting, business structuring, operating agreements, and more. A competent estate planning attorney will create the necessary documents and plan to preserve the story. But, estate planning is not about the documents – it is about our clients’ stories.
It is never too early to create an estate plan – some of our clients are just beginning – before they make their first investment, start a business, get married, or have a child – and our tailored estate planning begins, evolves, and grows along with them – adding and changing documents as they need over the years and through the generations. Others are building and expanding, and their families and their businesses are growing. And some are retired, reminiscing about their achievements and adventures from years past, looking to protect, preserve, and pass on to the next generations. There are wage earners, entrepreneurs, CEOs, parents and grandparents in this midst.
Our clients’ stories have always driven our practice and inspired us. In the season of festivities, we celebrate your successes and your stories. May the festival of lights illuminate the path to your legacy.
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