In My Letter to You

I recently watched a television interview of Bruce Springsteen, a favorite of mine. He released a new album entitled Letters to You, which can be described as an anthology of this 71-year-old rock and roll legend looking back on his life. The album is focused inward rather than outward, sounding a bit haunted, which is understandable given the loss of two of his E Street Band cohorts Clarence Clemons and George Theiss, as well as Danny Federici of his first band, The Castiles.

Sometimes it takes a musician to make us reflect on our own lives.

“You have your twenty-four-year-old self, your thirty-year-old, your forty-five-year-old and your seventy-year-old all in that car together,” Bruce said, “and where you go on any given day depends on which one of you is driving that car.”

After my open-heart surgery last year, I find myself in a reflective mood more often now than perhaps at any other time in my life. What do I want to accomplish in the next decade of my life? How can I make a positive impact on the lives of my family, friends, colleagues and clients?

David Brooks, an opinion columnist with the New York Times, wrote of the difference between your résumé virtues and your eulogy virtues.

“The résumé virtues are the skills that bring you to the marketplace,” he writes, “The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”

Brooks continues, “…if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.”

Your estate plan is one of the final expressions you make, which gives me great pride in my career. Your estate plan can be so much more than a generic will or trust. Does your plan call for a simple division of assets between your loved ones or do you want to protect what you leave from divorcing spouses, creditors and predators? Does it provide a retirement safety net for your children or can they unwisely spend it as soon as they inherit?

Do you provide the basis for the education of your grandchildren or will your plan be a means for them to live comfortably while avoiding work? Which philanthropic causes are important to you?

Everyone’s comfort with video conferencing is a silver lining to the COVID crisis. A byproduct of that is the many family conferences I’ve led with my clients and their adult children. Some of them have been quite insightful, as we’ve discussed the big picture attributes underlying the family’s estate plan. Many of my clients have discovered, for example, that their adult children don’t always know their hopes and intentions for the use of future inheritance.

I’ve found that when expectations are expressly laid out, they’re usually followed. Love and devotion are powerful factors that can survive the loss of the family patriarch or matriarch. Where sibling rivalries fester, these conferences also seem to diffuse those tensions, as my clients express their hopes, desires and motivation that are incorporated into their plan.

The closing versus in the title song to Springsteen’s new album seem to fit what I’m writing about here:

I took all the sunshine and rain,
All my happiness and all my pain,
The dark evening stars,
And the morning sky of blue,
And I sent it in my letter to you,
In my letter to you.
I took all my fears and doubts,
In my letter to you.
All the hard things that I found out,
In my letter to you.
All that I found true,
And I sent it in my letter to you.
I sent it in my letter to you.

What will your letter say to your loved ones?