Leaving a Legacy: A Lasting Gift to Loved Ones
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What Legacy Means
Legacy is what you leave behind to heirs and loved ones. It includes assets, possessions, instructions, and—of greatest importance to most people—values and life lessons that can help subsequent generations navigate their lives.
Ninety-four percent of Americans over 55 say the definition of a ‘life well lived’ is “having family and friends that love me.” Second in priority (75 percent) is “having made a positive impact on society.” In contrast, only 10 percent say a life well lived is defined by “accumulating a lot of wealth.”
When asked what they most want to be remembered for, at the top of the list, even among the wealthiest, nearly seven in ten (69 percent) say it’s “the memories I’ve shared with my loved ones,” towering over “career success” (9 percent) or “accumulated wealth” (4 percent).
When it comes to dispersing financial assets, giving while living has become the norm. Perhaps due to our longer lives, two thirds of Americans over 55 now say they prefer to distribute part of their estate, 30 percent on average, while still alive. By doing so, they can help meet family members’ ongoing needs and also enjoy experiencing the benefits of their contributions.
Departing from traditions of the past, older Americans express support of giving more to heirs who act as caregivers. than two thirds of respondents said that children who have provided care to them in their later years should receive a larger inheritance than those who did not. And those who need it most, should get more as well.
A Good Death
A near unanimous 96% of Americans over 55 agree that everyone deserves dignity as they approach their end of life. We asked our survey respondents what a “good death” means to them. They put at the top of the list being surrounded by loved ones and experiencing minimal pain. When asked what it means in terms of one’s family, respondents want to spare their families from the caregiving burden and from experiencing financial hardship resulting from their death. Their biggest end of life fears are dying with dementia and dying in pain.
The Three Essentials
Financial and life-planning experts advise everyone to cover three essentials in their legacy plans:
- A will
- Healthcare directive
- Durable power of attorney
Few people, however, have complete end-of-life/ legacy plans. Only 55% of Americans over 55 have a will. Fewer have health directives (41%) or powers of attorney (31%). Only 18% have all three of those essentials.
Background – Methodology
This research is based on a survey of more than 3,000 adult respondents in the U.S., with a focus on Americans 55 and older. The study is nationally represented and weighted to reflect the U.S. Census. The survey was fielded in September 2018, conducted by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave and executed by Kantar TNS.
Additionally, two focus groups were conducted in June 2016, where qualitative information was gathered about older Americans’ emotions, preferences, experiences and needs regarding end-of-life planning and their thoughts on leaving a legacy.
For more information, visit: http://www.ml.com/legacyplan