By Mary V. Danielsen: Documented Legacy, LLC
Create a Legacy Plan to accompany your estate planning by deciding how you would like your family history preserved and who gets it after you’ve passed away.
Imagine this scenario.
You’ve spent 20 years of your life researching your family history and have it well organized in a series of overstuffed boxes filled with records, photos, books, mementos and a few heirlooms in the basement. You even have CDs and a backup drive. You’ve never duplicated it to share with others, however, or donated copies to a repository. Your family doesn’t know the totality of your collection or where it’s stored. Unfortunately, you fall ill and have to move into skilled nursing care. While your family is clearing out the house, the entire history is tossed as junk.
The thought of this happening should unnerve every family historian.
Sadly, it is a common occurrence. Nearly two thirds of all Americans do not have any written estate plan in place, let alone one that includes a Legacy Plan to address family history preservation or digital assets. Even if you declared in your Last Will and Testament that the papers aren’t to be destroyed or are to be distributed, it’s all too easy to get lost by a lack of good communication and planning before the Will is read.
By creating a Legacy Plan you could decide what happens to your collection of family history once you no longer are able to manage it or have passed away. These plans can also preserve digital assets such as blogs, websites, email addresses, social media accounts, digital photos and video, and such.
In the post for week 9 on household documentation we suggested that you create a list of your digital accounts and family records as part of a Grab-and-Go file. Here’s where you expand it for your Legacy Plan.
First, look at all the family history you are compiling. What is most important to you to transfer to the next generation? What items and stories do you want preserved? What do you want donated to a repository, such as a local historical society? Why does it matter and who else knows your wishes? Now is the time to clarify your thoughts.
Let’s consider some options.
In her book, “How to Archive Family Keepsakes”, author Denise Levenick of The Family Curator suggests you begin your legacy plan by naming three people or institutions that may be interested in receiving your family history collection someday. You should draft both a Genealogical Codicil and Digital Assets Codicil to supplement your the legal documents in your estate plan. Levenick has samples of a codicil on her website that you could adapt to your needs. Make copies of both forms. Keep one set with your estate papers and give one set to your power of attorney, next of kin or the beneficiary.
It’s good idea to add another set of these Codicils to your Grab-and-Go box and put a copy with the collection. This way if anything changes you’ll have a reminder in your Grab-and-Go file to update the Legacy Plan in your estate papers. If the worst case scenario happens, like the story mentioned above, your family won’t miss the inventory label on your collection of boxes that says “Family History Papers. Do not throw out.” It’s a good cross reference.
You can create a new Codicil to a Will anytime the information changes. A Codicil is used to change one or more provisions to your existing Will, including addressing the issue of family history preservation and digital assets that weren’t previously addressed.
Have a conversation with those three family members to determine if they’re interested in owning the collection after you’re gone. Are they able and willing to preserve it?
Kristen Marks, a Florida estate and special needs planning attorney known as The Pink Lawyer, says by preserving your digital assets you’re preserving what’s most important to you: your values history and memories. Most standard wills and documents don’t include the relatively new area of digital assets and it’s easy for these assets to become residue to distribute or delete with the rest of the estate. As well, not every attorney that offers estate planning services will offer ideas for a Legacy Plan outside of your typical Will documents.
This step doesn’t have to be complicated. Inventorying your digital assets and the items in your family history collection could be as simple as writing out a list, and including accounts, usernames and passwords.
If you’d like to donate your entire family history collection to a repository upon your death, you should discuss this with the institution before hand. Repositories focus on preserving rare and unique materials and generally do not take publications that are widely available. According to the Society of American Archivists , a repository may not accept everything you offer, whether it’s due to staff or space constraints or because the materials aren’t within the collecting mission of that particular institution. It may welcome the chance to review your materials. If it’s not right for one organization it may be better suited for another.
Still, a variety of materials in your personal and family records are often valuable to researchers, including photos, memoirs or reminiscences, memorabilia, scrapbooks, professional papers, genealogical information, speeches, articles, essays, awards, brochures, film, video or audio tapes and websites. The Oregon Historical Society has compiled a handy reference guide for donating your personal or family papers.
Sometimes materials are more sentimental than historic or valuable and are best suited to remain with the extended family. Preserving your family history beyond yourself is just as important as capturing that history before the storytellers are gone. Decide what happens to it.
If you’re starting your family history project, ask extended relatives if they have any information. By opening up that conversation you’ll bring extended family members into the fold of preservation. Now everyone is talking.
Labels you can use for your filing boxes.