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Lessons from Aretha Franklin’s Legacy

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I recently asked Google, “How does my family know about my will.” All sorts of articles came up about having the “hard talk.” You know the kind, where you pull your family together around the kitchen table and discuss what happens after you’re gone. Everyone insists you’re too young to be thinking about such things and plasters a too-wide smile on their face to keep the tears at bay. You’ve had them. You’ve encouraged your clients to have them.

(Related: Don’t Let Your Clients Make the Same Mistake as Aretha Franklin and Prince)

It’s a really difficult thing to do and I was happy to see so many resources available for people like your clients. There were suggestions like thinking about the conversation in the context of your values versus money, as Paul A. Merriman recommended in a MarketWatch article published last year.

And about how one-on-one conversations make it easier and more personal when you first broach the topic.

What I didn’t see, though, was much about how your clients are supposed to get their information to their families once they’re gone. The family talk has to happen of course. But that’s only step one. The most important step, the one that matters when it counts, is putting a system in place that ensures the family gets access to the information they need when they need it. All the conversations in the world don’t mean a thing if that doesn’t happen.

Since I was in a Googling mood, I decided to see what the going advice was on where to keep this life-alteringly important information. Where does one store financial and personal information that can change the course of the lives of the people you love?

I saw suggestions like safe deposit box, attorney, home safe and county clerk – all options that are certainly secure. But where are the digital, the cloud options? Using an app on my phone, I can order just about any dish from any restaurant and have it delivered to my door. But I can’t tuck my will and other estate documents into a secure and organized corner of the ether?

The truth is I can. Anyone can. The right technology and the platforms are out there; we just need to let people know about them. Think about how much easier and more comfortable the experience would be for people, how much easier it would be for their families during the hardest time of their lives. Having access to a tool that allows everyone to create, organize, store and share their legacies could make such a difference for so many people.

It would’ve made a difference for Aretha Franklin’s family.

I’ve written before about her family’s problems with understanding her intentions: It took more than a year before her children even knew she had a will. (Three of them, rather). And they probably wouldn’t have ever found out about them if she hadn’t been famous. And even though they now know about her wills, there’s uncertainty around their validity and her final wishes. And what about those of us who aren’t celebrities? Those of us whose lives aren’t lived under public scrutiny? There could be thousands of wills locked away in safes and stuffed into couch cushions, as Aretha’s were, and who would be the wiser?

I firmly believe that everyone has a right to leave behind their legacy, and I want to make it easy for people to protect their families. There aren’t many digital solutions out there that do everything I’ve mentioned, but there is at least one. Help your clients pick the legacy planning solution that gives them peace of mind knowing their information is safe and will get in the right hands when it matters most

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Michael Babikian (Photo: LegacyShield)Michael Babikian is the chief executive officer of LegacyShield, a financial services exchange built around a family information management system.