Estate planning is a crucial process that ensures your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. While an estate plan primarily focuses on financial and legal matters, as it should, you should not underestimate the importance of the emotional and relational aspects of estate planning. In fact, this goes to the heart of Relational Estate Planning®, a process we recommend everyone consider instead of traditional estate planning. One often-overlooked yet immensely beneficial element of considering emotional and relational aspects in estate planning is gratitude. Showing gratitude in a Relational Estate Plan can mean the difference between seeing your estate plan as simply a means to an end or as a long-lasting legacy to pass down to future generations.

Gratitude is more than just a feeling. If you look beneath the surface, gratitude is a powerful and positive emotion that goes beyond mere words of thanks. It involves acknowledging and appreciating the value and kindness others bring to your life, whether that be family, friends, or even an aspect of your community that you cherish. When it comes to Relational Estate Planning, gratitude plays a vital role in fostering healthy relationships among family members and ensuring a smooth transition of assets.

But what can a gratitude-focused estate plan truly accomplish? You might be surprised. Showing gratitude in your Relational Estate Planning can produce some powerful results like the following: 

Strengthening Family Bonds

A traditional estate plan can potentially promote conflict among family members, but creating a Relational Estate Plan that incorporates gratitude for your friends and family can help alleviate some of that tension. You create an atmosphere of trust and understanding by expressing your appreciation for your loved ones and acknowledging their support and contributions. This, in turn, can help to strengthen family bonds and prevent conflicts and disputes among family members after you’re gone.

Facilitating Open Communication

Showing gratitude encourages open and honest communication. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable in your Relational Estate Plan can help to set the stage for more meaningful conversation among your family and friends once you pass. Being thankful, honest, and open in your Relational Estate Plan can help your loved ones better understand your intentions, aiding in a smooth administration process once you’ve passed.

Reducing Resentment and Jealousy

When a loved one dies, grief can cause quite a bit of contention among their friends and family. Additionally, that loved one’s estate plan often involves distributing assets among heirs, which can sometimes lead to jealousy or resentment among family members. Expressing gratitude throughout a Relational Estate Plan can help mitigate these negative emotions that are only exacerbated by grief. When each beneficiary feels valued and appreciated, they are less likely to harbor negative feelings toward one another, allowing them to focus more on celebrating the deceased’s life instead of fighting amongst themselves.

Promoting Fairness

Making gratitude the focus of your estate plan can also guide your decisions regarding asset distribution. By considering the contributions and needs of each beneficiary, you can create a more equitable Relational Estate Plan. This not only ensures fairness but also demonstrates your appreciation for the unique roles each person has played in your life.

Leaving a Positive Legacy

Estate planning is not just about transferring wealth; it’s also about leaving a positive legacy, which is the goal of Relational Estate Planning. Expressing gratitude in your Relational Estate Plan leaves a lasting, positive impression on your loved ones. It conveys the message that you not only cared about their financial well-being but also cherished the relationships you shared.

How Can You Incorporate Gratitude into Your Estate Plan?

Incorporating gratitude into your estate plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Instead, consider some of these easy ways that you can add a unique piece of yourself into your Relational Estate Plan:

  1. Ethical Wills: Consider leaving an Ethical Will for your beneficiaries expressing your gratitude. The heartfelt messages in your Ethical Will can provide comfort and closure, ensuring your loved ones know how much you appreciate them. It also gives them a special piece of yourself to cherish for years to come.
  2. Family Meetings: Organize family meetings to discuss your Relational Estate Plan. Express your gratitude in person and encourage open conversations about your intentions. By being upfront and honest about your estate planning process and its relational focus, you can mitigate some of the potential tension that may arise after you’ve passed.
  3. Include a Gifts and Memories List: When you want to share the sentimental value of personal items, a Gifts and Memories List is the best avenue to do so. For personal property that you’d like to gift to your loved ones, write a story behind why it’s special to you. Express your gratitude for the life you’ve had and the memories you’ve made. A Gifts and Memories List is something that your family will treasure long after you’re gone.

Creating Your Relational Estate Plan

All too often, estate plans are seen as simple legal documents to ensure that your estate assets are taken care of. While this is true, that’s not all an estate plan has to be – especially if you’re committed to creating a Relational Estate Plan. By adding pieces of yourself through gratitude, you’re able to transform a generic set of legal documents into a lifetime legacy for your loved ones.

If you’re interested in creating a Relational Estate Plan to help care for your loved ones, contact us today! We’re happy to work alongside you as you plan for and navigate your Relational Estate Planning.


Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. is the founder of Relational Estate & Elder Law, and he has been a practicing attorney for over 15 years. While experienced in many parts of the law, Josh specializes in estate planning, estate administration, and elder law. He is licensed in both Virginia and West Virginia. Josh’s passion lies in helping people gain peace of mind about the future through holistic legal planning. When he isn’t meeting with clients or crafting legal documents, Josh enjoys spending time with his lovely wife, Jill, and their four vibrant children.


Disclaimer: The information you obtain in this post is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. This blog shares general best practices when navigating Virginia or West Virginia law, but you should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.