Let Me Hear an “Amen” and a “Bingo!”

Each week, my 11-year-old granddaughter Stella Savetsky takes to Instagram to post “Stella’s Torah Corner,” teaching thousands her interpretation of that week’s Torah portion. I filled in for her once as a “substitute teacher” and discovered it’s a lot harder than it looks. Stella is truly an old soul whose Torah Corner offers remarkable wisdom. This old Zaidy Marvin certainly learns a lot from her. Often the lesson informs my work as an estate attorney, especially my passion for family legacy planning. Such was the case recently with Parashat Behar, Leviticus 25:1-26:2.

Behar teaches the importance of advance planning, certainly critical to getting your estate in order. How does it do that? The Torah describes the practice of shmita, giving the land a sabbath of rest every seventh year, “allowing the earth to rest and reinvigorate.” (Vanessa Ochs, “Parashat Behar: Advance Planning,” My Jewish Learning, May 25, 2024.) Because there would be no harvest in the seventh year, the Israelites did advance planning to store up reserves from an abundant harvest in year six. Archeologists have discovered sacks, jars, and storage pits as evidence of these preparations.

Ochs ties shmita to the importance of advance planning before death: “These extensive preparations remind me of how advance planning can alleviate the intense burdens of planning for a Jewish funeral and the subsequent mourning period.” My interpretation of Behar goes beyond funeral preparations into the broader realm of estate planning. 

Is your estate in order? Check your documents, bank accounts, and beneficiary designations. Create a “Red File” to give your family a roadmap containing key information and passwords. Follow the advice of one of my TIGER 21 colleagues who advised Bill (a fellow TIGER member) to do a test run of his estate: “Meet with your planning team and answer this question, “What if Bill died today?” Such a test run often reveals the need for updates and tweaks that are too late to correct after you’re gone. 

Take it a step further and heed the advice of Ashlea Ebeling in “Hash Out the Inheritance Now, or Fight Your Family Later,” (Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2024.) With “more than $84 trillion in wealth” to be transferred over the next 25 years, get in front of potential family conflicts. Avoid surprises, especially in blended families, and explain “why things have been put in place a certain way, no matter how uncomfortable they may be….The topics to cover go beyond just dollar amounts, financial advisers said. The discussion can also address caregiving, charity, and educational costs.” Moreover, select the right time and place for the conversation. “Thanksgiving dinner… is not the best choice.”

Ebeling covers one more aspect of advance planning that especially speaks to me. Share the wealth while you’re still alive, especially by creating meaningful family experiences. Take your family on “all-expenses-paid trips… [to create] memories and a family tradition of togetherness.”

I’ll close with a prime example of family bonding recently shared by Jane, a longtime friend and client. After telling me that my recent Legacy Letter to our granddaughter Mia inspired her “to update my ‘legacy letters’ to my children and grandchildren stashed in my End of Life file,” Jane continued: “We just returned from our annual trip—a long weekend at Hyatt Regency’s Lost Pines near Austin. In addition to four G-2’s and seven G-3’s, along with spouses, all nine G-4’s (ages 1-13) joined. When seven-year-old Jack was asked what was his favorite part of the trip, his response was ‘Being with family.’ I didn’t know whether to say ‘Amen’ or ‘Bingo—we hit the jackpot!’”

Jane, your legacy letters and annual family trips are the kind of advance planning that will yield benefits for generations to come. Your family is richly blessed. I would say both “Amen” and “Bingo!”

Marvin Blum’s granddaughter Stella Savetsky teaches “Stella’s Torah Corner” each week, frequently imparting estate planning wisdom through her insightful Torah lessons.