Recently, there was a statistic on the AARP website (www.aarp.org) that “more than 50 percent of Americans are living without the essential components of a good estate plan: a will or living trust and advance directives for healthcare and finances. Are you one of them?”
After reading this statistic it brought me back 35 years ago, to a groundbreaking I attended for a new student center. The keynote speaker, Rose Totino, who generously funded this new facility, shared an axiom: “You’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.” Her words are timeless. We can’t take anything with us when we pass, but thankfully each individual has the ability to decide today how our wealth and possessions will be distributed.
Rose was an amazing person: an outstanding wife, mother, businesswoman and philanthropist. With a $1,500 loan from a bank, she and her husband, Jim, started one of the first pizza shops in Minneapolis. Together they made a great success of the restaurant and decided to attempt creating a pizza that could be frozen and baked at home. The Totinos were not the first to create frozen pizza, but their customers and industry leaders determined their crust was the most delicious. The couple successfully placed their pizzas in grocery stores around the country and eventually sold their business to Pillsbury for $22 million.
I don’t know if Rose was the first person to say, “You’ll never see a U- Haul behind a hearse,” but the local newspaper covered the groundbreaking and quoted her. Within a week the expression was picked up by wire services and used in newspapers across the country. From that day on, I have heard this powerful phrase utilized by public speakers, as well as in movies, plays, and songs.
The lesson to be learned is that no matter the size of your estate, all of us should have a plan to share with our children, relatives, friends and charities a legacy that represents who we are as an individual. The time has come for the other 50 percent, who have not created an estate plan, to begin thinking and planning where your possessions and finances are going to be directed. First, you should reflect on who and what you value most in this world. It is then important to discuss with an attorney, an accountant, or you may wish to attend an estate seminar, to determine how to allocate your assets to make the greatest impact.
As you consider what legacy to leave, please keep in mind the eloquent words of Rose Totino and the following anecdote. There is a small Southwest community where the richest man in town passed away and everyone wanted to know what he left. Two people finally got up the courage to ask the attorney. They never thought they would get an answer, but the attorney said, “I’ll be glad to tell you what he left… He left everything.”
Mark Davy is president of the Greater Green Valley Community Foundation.