Who Were You?
What words would best describe how I want to be remembered?
I was recently asked to write what I wanted to be on my tombstone. It was an exercise during a professional development course. I was limited to twenty words. We were told these words would be a summary of our obituaries. They would let future generations know who I was. Holy smoke! I am rarely at a loss for words, but I found myself frozen, staring into space--"how will I be remembered?" "How do I want to be remembered?" And, just as important, "what are to best words to best describe how I want to be remembered?"
Then, like a bolt of lightning, it hit me--Bob, practice what you preach. I needed to stop worrying about the inevitable, and just prepare for it. I cannot control how people will remember me. But, I can control how I live my life. And, we all have the ability to control our obituary. So why not make it a way of sharing your life story, of communicating information about significant events and people, as well as important values you would like to impart to others. Control what is written about you. Prepare it now while you are living, clear-minded, and focused. Writing your own obituary can be an important part of your estate planning that you can do today. Do not leave this task for grieving family members to do after you pass away. That is not fair to you or to them.
Estate Planning Is not Just about Money and Property
When estate planning is mentioned, it is not unusual for a will or a trust to come to mind first. Wills and trusts are among the most common estate planning tools for transferring your belongings and money to your loved ones. But money and property are not the only forms of wealth you have accumulated over your lifetime. You have many stories, lessons, experiences, and values to share. You may also want to acknowledge influential family members, loved ones, friends, and other people who have played an important part in your life. Your obituary is also a great opportunity for you to ensure that you are remembered in the way you wish.
What Should You Include?
Because your obituary is all about you, you can emphasize any aspects of your life you wish. There is no correct format, so you are free to tell your story in the way you feel most comfortable, showcasing your personality. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
Important life events: If you would like an opportunity to tell a brief story of your life, your obituary can provide an opportunity for you to highlight the most impactful experiences from your youth into adulthood.
Lessons learned: Most people learn many lessons over the course of their lives, and it is likely that friends and family members can benefit from your experiences. You can include these lessons in your obituary if you choose so they will also be available to a wider audience.
Gratitude: You can use your obituary to express gratitude to the people who have played an important and beneficial role in your life. If you are dealing with a long-term or chronic illness, you may wish to thank healthcare providers or caregivers who have gone above and beyond to help you during a difficult time.
History: Times are changing rapidly. You can tell your friends and family about the different periods in history in which you lived and how they impacted you. If you lived through a war or were involved in or witnessed certain historical events, your loved ones will cherish your memories of those times because they are part of what molded you as a person. Writing down your memories will also leave an important historical record for the next generation.
Good-byes: Your obituary can be a wonderful way for you to say goodbye to friends and family members who may not live near you and are unlikely to be present when you pass away. As sad as it seems, it is invaluable for those who are important to you to know you have thought of them and have made an effort to express your affection.
Side Benefit. Depending on when you write your obituary, make sure you review it every few years. Do this for two reasons. First, you want to make sure it is current and accurate. As we have seen over this past year, circumstances can change VERY quickly. The other reason is a side benefit and has nothing to do with estate planning. Depending on what you wrote, reviewing your obituary can serve as a touchstone. If you are like me, there are those times when "life" can cause our vision to become cloudy and we lose our way. Reading a document where we stated our goals, our values, and how we want to be remembered could be just the "ticket" to bring back the clarity and focus needed for dealing with this thing we call "life".
Where Should You Store It?
If it is important to you for loved ones to publish the obituary you have prepared, you need to take steps to ensure it is preserved and stored properly. The obituary you have written can simply be incorporated as part of your Remembrance and Services Memorandum. A Remembrance and Services Memorandum is an important estate planning document designed to provide guidance to your family members, trustee, and executor about who to notify when you pass away, how your remains should be handled, your wishes for your memorial service or funeral, as well as the information that should be included in your obituary—or the obituary itself. You should store the original version of the Remembrance and Services Memorandum containing your obituary in the same safe location as your other estate planning documents. Be sure to let your family, personal representative (aka executor), and trustee know where your documents are stored, and keep a copy for yourself.
We Can Help
Writing your own obituary in advance can provide you with the peace of mind that comes with knowing you will be remembered in the way you wish. It also enables you to provide your family, friends, and acquaintances with a final message of love. In addition, it will relieve your family members of this task during an emotionally difficult time.
Call us today at 301.892.2713 or click here to schedule a complimentary Discovery Session so we can help you create a Remembrance and Services Memorandum that includes your obituary, as well as other important estate planning documents you need, so you can rest assured your family members and loved ones will receive all the emotional, spiritual, and monetary gifts you intend.
"Living with Your Bags Packed!"®
Information in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.