Hollywood loves a good surprise ending. My wife and I experienced that first-hand when we recently watched the Nicholas Sparks film, The Longest Ride. It is a romance with parallel storylines involving a modern-day young couple whose lives are interrupted by the discovery of each other, and an old man, who recounts his undying love for his late wife, Ruth, an avid art collector with an eye for the avant-garde.
I won’t spoil the story for you, but the film has one of those typical Hollywood scenes: a crowd of people gather together (in this case, at an exhibit of Ruth’s art collection) for the reading of the will, a situation that provides a shocking twist that no one anticipated. While it certainly makes for a compelling story, it is not very true to life when it comes to the managing of an estate.
At Mennonite Foundation of Canada, we encourage families to avoid surprises by having conversations about their will and estate planning. These conversations allow you to share your values and your intentions. Communicating your wishes beforehand makes it easier to manage your estate and provides peace of mind for you and your family, especially during a time of loss.
Some of our clients take a proactive approach to legacy planning by creating an annual family ritual of generosity. For example, one family set up a 20-year legacy of generosity plan, which includes an annual family gathering, impacting not only the children but also the grandchildren.
The patriarch of the family was passionate about supporting charities that he loved. To ensure their support after he was gone, his will earmarked a significant portion of his estate for these charities—distributed over a period of 20 years. He also set up undesignated charitable funds stipulating that his children would decide each year where this portion of his charitable gifts would go. This creative estate plan not only ensures support for his favourite charities for 20 years, it also brings his family together around the joy of giving generously to the causes they love, with a gift from their father’s estate.
MFC is administering these charitable distributions, so we have the privilege to meet with this family every year as they decide together which charities they’re going to bless. While there is the usual playful family banter and the sharing of their ideas, a spirit of joy envelops the room during that sacred time, as they honour their father’s life and carry on his legacy of giving. He certainly would have enjoyed these gatherings and would be proud of the rippling spirit of generosity that continues to grow in his family.
Another family has taken a different approach. They are building a family foundation to provide future support to the charities they love. In this case, the family foundation is managed by MFC, which gives them most of the benefits of having their own private foundation without all the red tape. Each year, family members contribute to this fund, ensuring the fund will grow as well as support the charities they wish to support.
What are your wishes for your family? Now is the time to avoid the Hollywood surprise ending by having the conversation with your children and grandchildren. Share your values and the story behind your commitment to generosity. Let them know which charitable causes you hold dear and why. Every family is unique, and so is our approach to each MFC client. Let us help you create your own ripple effect of generosity.
Peter Dryden is a stewardship consultant at Mennonite Foundation of Canada serving generous people in Alberta. For more information on generosity, stewardship education and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.