The Most Important Legacy

What’s the most important thing you can leave to your heirs? If I asked you this question, I suspect most of you would say, “You know, Ken: it’s my money, my real estate, my property, my assets-all of that.” But let me ask a few more questions: How much of your money would you trade for your values? For your belief system? What about your family history-the stories of your life and your parents’ lives? What are those worth to you?

Once you really think about it, what is the most important thing you can leave to your family? I don’t believe it’s money. I think it’s your value system: what you believe and what you stand for. I believe that the best present you can give your heirs is the ability to truly know your family, to experience the love between you all, and to relive the stories of your family history.

But if I asked you to tell me stories about your great grandfather, I bet you couldn’t.The values he lived by and the stories he could tell are probably lost, and I think that’s a tragedy. Today, though, you can record your stories for posterity. You can leave your heirs “a values will.”

This kind of will (which does not take the place of a traditional will) is simple to create. Just videotape yourself and your spouse. Tell your stories. Give your family a verbal snapshot of your childhood. Explain your values. Let them know what you believe in and why. Tell them what lessons you learned about success and failure, so they can learn from your accomplishments and your mistakes. Ask your family to carry on traditions and beliefs that are important to you. Convey love.

You don’t have to hire an attorney or a videographer to create a values will. Simply set up a video camera on a tripod, and you can leave your great, great grandchildren your most valuable assets: your values, your stories, and your love.

To Work or Not to Work: Or How Early Retirement Could Affect Your SS Benefits:

People often ask me about early retirement. They know that the typical retirement age is 66, and they understand that they can start collecting reduced benefits at age 62. “But,” they ask, “what if I retire at 50 or 60? What happens to my Social Security benefits then?” It’s an important question. Some people have lost out on literally hundreds of thousands of dollars by making the wrong decision.

When it’s your turn to decide, you need to first understand how your Social Security retirement benefits are determined. The Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at your 35 highest years of earnings, going all the way back to your first working day (on the first job where you contributed to Social Security). After determining the 35 best years you’ve had since then, the SSA takes those years, combines them to find an average, and gives you benefits based on that average number.

What happens if you retire before you worked for 35 years? The Social Security Administration still uses a formula that counts 35 years, using zeros for the years you didn’t work. For example, if you worked for 30 years, the SSA would need to add 5 years to your formula, and would put in zero earnings for those five years. All of those zeros reduce your average earnings and the amount of your benefits. Even if you did work at least 35 years, in theory you will earn more in your later years than you did as a teenager. The more high earning years you can add to your thirty-five-year-average, the better.

And if you work beyond your normal retirement age, you get to use those higher earning years, take your full benefits (they are only reduced if you retire early), and get your wages. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Whatever you decide, make sure you look at all your options-and all the numbers-very carefully.


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