A true story for once: I am in a restaurant in Dallas, at a table of financial advisors and attorneys. To my left across the table is an advisor I have known and worked with ("Legacy Planning for the Wealthy") for thirty years. He is a business friend and colleague. To his right is an attorney who is famous for, let us say, naming a tax strategy as "Ulysses." My friend, after a couple of glasses of wine, is whispering behind his hand to the attorney, and laughing. My friend is looking at me as he laughs, as is the attorney. So, my friend says, to the attorney, "Ask him go ahead, ask him." Ask Phil if he has read Irish literature. And yes I have read Ulysses, my father taught it. My Aunt taught it. I taught it, and also Joyce's Dubliners, and the fine story with which it ends, "The Dead." Why, then, is legacy planning the sorry mess it is? Why has it become The Book of the Dead? Simple: Because those who know better, are silenced by the Living Dead and become Zombies in their turn, the revenge of this world upon the next. Legacy planning begins with conviction, as to a handful of questions. The questions do not have answers. Neither the CPA nor the attorney, nor the financial advisor, can answer them. The questions require decisions in the light of whatever we hold holy, and to share that with the advisors is to be exposed to derision. So the living dead bury the dead alive. Questions:
- How much is enough for me? For my family? How much can I/we devote to something larger than ourselves?
- What lives in me, from what source, or seed, and how will that live on through others after I am gone?
- What in this moment, at this crossroads, for me, my family, and our community, am I called to do, even if others scoff?
What sheds light on these questions are traditions that go back to year one, and earlier. Scriptures, classic texts, more recent texts channeling those, the traditions of democracy and of the economy (buying, selling, owning, investing, measuring, managing, scaling, and cashing out). The pearl of great price. The birds of the air. The seed that falls on infertile ground. The pearls before swine. The branches of the old tree burned. The faithful servant whose only service in his blindness is to stand and wait. To create a space in and out of time, that moment in every day that Satan's watch-fiends cannot find, to come to conviction, is what we each must do before we go to see my good friend, the best of the bunch, or the attorney to his right. The seed has a thick husk for good reason, so it can withstand weeks, years, centuries of drought. What will live on? Even the dead husks will die out too if the seed within them does not sprout. In my friend, in the attorney to his right, seed within the husk, for them too. We do not wholly die until our last breath. Even in that breath the sinner can be saved. Afterward comes the eulogy, and the reading of the will. As a Rabbi said to me once, "Your last will and testament is your final teaching. What do you want it to say?"