My stepfather (Andy) passed away just over three years ago. Though he and my mom divorced many years ago, Andy and I remained very close. We talked, if not every day, at least every week. Andy was important in my life. Through the years, he was at many important events: the birth of all three of my sons; as a child care provider for my eldest son when my middle son was near death; at the passing of my grandfather, and later my grandmother. He was at every one of my football games; he gave me the “talk” when I reached puberty; he consoled me through teenage heartbreaks; he encouraged me in so many ways to go to college, and later to law school.
When I transitioned my office to elder law, my biggest cheerleader was Andy. He was as enthusiastic about helping elders and the chronically ill as I.
In so many ways, he taught me right from wrong; and how important friends are.
Andy had his flaws, like we all do. But as he often said, “Do what I say; not what I do.” When he passed away, his widow gave me his watch and watch band.
Andy didn’t wear the watch often, but the watch band was special to him. It was a gift from his family. It was made by Navajo Indians in New Mexico, where Andy was from. In a way, it represented to him his heritage.
Let me describe the watch band: it is really too big and too gaudy; I never would have picked it out for myself. But it represents Andy to me.
A popular topic today in estate planning is leaving a legacy. The topic tends to focus on protecting a business, protecting cash resources, or the like. Those are important, and those are considerations that we want to talk with our clients about.
But legacy is not just about stuff. It is what the stuff represents.
Sometimes, when I am working with a family that is going through a very difficult financial situation (such as trying to pay for long-term care), one of the great concerns that I hear is “I wanted to leave my children a legacy”.
That legacy doesn’t have to be big stuff. It can be little stuff. It can be some photographs; it can be a journal; it can be a watch band. Many times, those things are the most important.
When my grandmother moved to Kansas, she no longer had use of her dishes. She gave me her full set of Franciscan desert rose dishes. They are very common, but they represent my grandmother and my grandfather to me. I still use them to this day. That is a legacy.
Andy’s legacy to me is the Indian watch band. Not because it is or is not monetarily valuable, but because it reminds me of Andy, what he meant to me, what he taught me, and my memories of my times with him.
I wear the watch band most of the time, and when someone asks me about it, I get to tell them of Andy. And when I do, a flood of warm feeling comes back over me. It is Andy’s legacy to me.
So, don’t forget about the little stuff to create a legacy. Tell the story about what it is. Your legacy can be a watch band, or a journal, or something else, but something that is part of you. Your legacy will live on.