Weekly Sermon

Weekly Sermon


Estate Planning vs Legacy Planning

Most of us have given some thought to estate planning—what will happen to all we’ve accumulated during our life time after we pass. Some of us have even gotten professional help in creating an estate plan. While others don’t worry so much about their estates because they’re just trying to make it through the end of the month to pay rent. But what about legacy planning? We all want to leave a legacy. Much of the reason for our strong desire to accumulate wealth—and our sorrow at losing it—comes from our deep-seated need to be remembered once we depart this world.

Here’s a story sent to me a while back by Jack Hyman:

            An 18-year-old Jewish girl tells her Mom that she’s pregnant. Shouting and crying, the mother says, “Who was the pig that did this to you? I want to know!”

            Without answering, the girl picks up her phone and makes a call. Half an hour later, a big Mercedes stops in front of their house. A mature and distinguished man with greying hair, wearing a yarmulke steps out of the car and enters the house.

            He sits in the living room with the father, mother, and the girl and tells them, “Good morning. Your daughter has informed me of the problem. I can’t marry her because of my personal family situation but I’ll take charge. I will pay all costs and provide for your daughter for the rest of her life.

         If a girl is born, I will bequeath 2 retail furniture stores, a deli, a condo in Miami, and a $1 million bank account. If a boy is born, my legacy will be a chain of jewelry stores and a $25 million bank account. However, if there is a miscarriage, I’m not sure what to do. What do you suggest?”

            Verklempt and emotionally spent at this point, the mother, who had remained silent until now, places a hand firmly on the man’s shoulder and tells him, “If there is a miscarriage, you’ll try again, right?”

For some, their legacy is of the ultimate importance.

When billionaire Edward Reichman died in 2005, he left his family 2 envelopes: one to be opened immediately after death and one to be opened after shloshim. The 1st envelope contained a letter to his children: “My children, I have one simple request before I am buried. Please bury me in my socks.”

            The children told this to the Chevra Kadisha who refused to honor his request because it’s contrary to Jewish law and practice. The children were disappointed they couldn’t fulfill their father’s last request, but there wasn’t much they could do.

            After the shloshim, they opened the 2nd envelope and there was the following letter: “My dear children, by now you must have buried me without my socks. I wanted you to truly understand that you can have $1 billion, but in the end, you can’t even bring your socks with you when you pass on. You only get to bring your good deeds.”

In a recent article in Forbes Magazine, Daniel Scott notes that “Estate planning is dead.” He points out that instead of the previous trend of trying to worry about where one’s assets will go after death, there has been a new focus on legacy planning. He writes:

Legacy planning recognizes that you are more than what you own. Legacy planning recognizes that you are the sum total of your life experiences. It measures your wealth not just in terms of traditional financial capital, but also in terms of your human capital—who you are in terms of your knowledge, values, relationships and spiritual beliefs, as well as your contributions to society. More importantly, legacy planning is about life, not death. While you may certainly leave a legacy behind when you die, legacy planning is about creating a blueprint for your success. It is about empowering you to live proactively, with intentionality and purpose. Legacy planning empowers you to choose the life you want to ultimately leave behind and to write the story you want others to tell when you are gone.

Today we read from Kohelet King Solomon’s legacy of wisdom. He writes (2:18): “Thus I hated all my achievements laboring under the sun, for I must leave it to the one who succeeds me.” Obviously, he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about his son Rechovam. Rav Saadiah Gaon explains: “When a person leaves his fortune to righteous children, he does it with joy. But if his children are wicked, he weeps.”

We all want to “live on” in the hearts of our loved ones. What is our legacy going to be? On Yom Kippur I told you that it won’t be what you did for a living. I’ve never seen written on a tombstone what the deceased did for a living. What is important are the words on the tombstone that speak of your legacy as a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, wife and husband. Your legacy are the children and grandchildren who speak at your funeral and cry for you as they remember you.

So what would you rather leave to your children—I hope I’m not showing my age—Kodak stock or Kodak moments? Money or memories? I don’t think there’s any question. Money is good, but it only lasts for a little while and is spent. Memories live on forever and serve as everlasting reminders of our existence. And as important as how much money you leave your children is…how they see what you do with your money NOW is more significant for it teaches them in the most profound way what is really important. They learn from you not from what you say, but from what they see you do.

You see, memories are created every moment. Some of the most important ones are even made when we’re totally unaware. And these, very often, are really the most valuable legacies you can leave to your children. These words were written by a child whose identity is unfortunately unknown. Its insights, however, speak profoundly to every parent:

            -When you thought l wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my 1st painting on the refrigerator, and I immediately wanted to paint another one.

            -When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, and learned that it was good to be kind to animals.

            -When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I knew there is a Gd I could always talk to and trust.

            -When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick, and I learned that we all have to help take care of each other.

            -When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you give of your time and money to help people who had nothing and I learned that those who have something should give to those who don’t.

            -When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you take care of our house and everyone in it and I learned we have to take care of what we are given.

            -When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn’t feel good, and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grow up.

            -When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared, and I wanted to be everything that I could be.

            -When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked at you and wanted to say, “Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.”

So here’s my suggestion about our legacy. Let’s save our children’s menorahs they make in Religious School and use them on Chanukah, and maybe they’ll save our Seder plates and use them after we’re gone. In our lifetime, let them see that we appreciate what’s truly valuable. In our passing—let them see the institutions we make bequests to—so that they will treasure them as well. As Rav Saadiah teaches, what could be a greater legacy than having descendants who use their money to express our values? May we all be so fortunate. Amen!



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