Friday, November 30, 2007

Estate Planning, Wills and Family History

I need to pat myself on the back here - I've tackled a nagging task hanging over my head all year now. Just like backing up my genealogy database, copying scanned photos to CDs, or labeling photos. I completed my estate planning details. Estate planning is not fun to think about and worse to actually do.

Some friendly advice, especially to those who are not currently married but share a life with someone close to their heart: estate planning is even more important since basic laws of inheritance don't cover these types of relationships. While we may get along with our special someone's family, I can tell you first hand that once a death occurs, families get weird. Unless it is written down, things and wishes promised to you verbally will be handled the way the family and/or probate court see fit.

While I was preparing my "departure plan" as I call it, I thought of my ancestors who left wills and other estate documents as part of their legacy. These documents not only served to convey money and property to spouses and family members left behind but years, even centuries later, they provided details of their lives.

As I get older, I become less attached to materials things, except for those that have great sentimental and family history value. Besides designating how I want my assets to be dispersed and my funeral arrangements handled, just as important to me is deciding who gets all my research materials.

I am in a quandry now since out of 200+ living relatives (I'm not kidding - we're Irish - this is what we do - we have large families) I really can't identify one person who would want to take this project over. Granted, I have plenty of time and as the current generation (born after 2000 - ugh!) gets older I hope that someone will not just be interested in my research, but will want to act as a custodian of the materials and the concept.

My hope is that my niece, Jacqueline Rose and/or my nephew, Patrick Thomas will want to take over the research. But just in case, I've added a provision that directs my executor to locate a historical or family history society willing to archive the materials. My preference is for a group based in either Lewis or Saint Lawrence counties in way upstate New York since that is where my family spent most of the 19th century.

In preparation for that transfer, I am being a good boy - labeling photos, backing up data, etc. I have even printed out information on heirlooms such as my great-great grandmother Catherine O'Keefe Austin's wedding silver and tucked it in the chest holding the set made in 1882. I've done the same for my great-grandmother Therese McGinnes Austin's Floradora doll from the late 1890s.

I know I can only control so much and that I can't take it with me. But do I really want to leave it up to my family to guess and say "what would Thomas do?"

Photo: my niece, Jacqueline Rose, in 2001

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