Favorite recipes, family stories, mementos that can be passed down from one generation to the next. Legacy planning is more than just about having a will. It's about preserving memories for generations to come.

But legacy planning is not usually at the forefront of anyone's mind until it's too late. Rachel Donnelly of Black Dress Consultants joins us to discuss the importance of legacy planning, considerations for the legacy you'd like to leave behind, and where to begin with the process.


Video Transcript

- Hello, everybody, and welcome into Senior Living Live. My name is Melissa. Thank you so much for being with us. Today, we are discussing a topic that many of us don't really think about until it's too late, legacy planning. We've got a wonderful company who specializes in this and after-loss consulting. They truly think of everything so you don't have to. Rachel Donnelly is the founder and CEO of Black Dress Consultants. Rachel, you look beautiful. It is so good to have you with us today. Thank you for being here.

- Thank you for having me. It's always good to be with a fellow redhead.

- Ah, I love that, yeah. Well, first, let's talk about you. Tell us about yourself and your company, Black Dress Consultants.

- Yeah, so I created this company, as I mentioned, necessity is the mother of invention. I created this company just a couple of years ago due to my own personal experiences with loss. I lost my father when I was in high school. And then, fast forward several years later, after I had gone to college, and got married, and had children, my mom got sick and unfortunately went into the hospital and never came home. And her passing left me in charge of her brother, my uncle, who was in the latter stages of Parkinson's. So not only now was I thrown into the circumstances of probating and settling my parents' estate, but now, taking over the care of an aging loved one who lived in a different state than me. So the logistics, the decisions, the jargon that I was forced to learn, sort of baptism by fire as I say, thrown in to really learn at a very fast pace while working full-time, while trying to raise kids, was completely overwhelming, as you can imagine. And after my uncle passed away and I had now been the executor of an estate twice, I really thought, why isn't there a project management firm who can help families and individuals, whether they're surviving spouses, whether they're adult children, whether they're a niece or a nephew out there, to help really manage those logistics that are unavoidable when you lose a loved one? What I refer to as sort of the business of death. And I felt there was not really a lot of attention given to this very important topic and very important circumstances. So I said, "There isn't a company like this. "I'm going to create it," and I did. And my company is a nod to my mother who was a research librarian and genealogist, and she was an expert in Victorian mourning customs. So I named the company Black Dress Consultants after her expertise. She used to do tours at a very historic cemetery in Atlanta dressed up as a Civil War widow. And so this is a nod to that, the customs, the traditions around mourning. So that's how I started this company. And it was, like I said, just something that I felt if I needed, I couldn't be alone.

- Yeah, and I mean, your examples are probably shared by many, people are probably hearing themselves within your examples, thinking, "Oh my gosh." I mean, it is overwhelming, especially when you've never done it before. You had to do it twice and almost kind of one on top of the other. So...

- Right, right.

- I think that this is a wonderful company. I think it's a fantastic idea. I think it is very necessary. And I'm so glad that you are doing it. And I'm so glad that you're introducing that to our viewers here today. So you do write on your website, it says, "Life is messy, but death, "that can be even messier." And I know you just gave us a few examples in your own life

- Right, right.

- of that being the case. Can you give us some examples that you have seen in your experience so far within your company with the death of a loved one and how that can truly become messy?

- How much time do we have? I'm kidding. You know, unfortunately I have experiences in, but had the pleasure or the honor of helping families and help guide them through some of these experiences. But many of the things that I see, they're sort of recurring themes when you lose a loved one and you're left with all of those logistics. One of the biggest things is the stuff, the contents of a home that are leftover for a family and loved ones to decide who wants what, what to do with all of the things. It takes an average, there are estimates between 420 to 570 hours of effort on average that is needed by an executor, someone settling the estate to manage all those affairs. And I've seen a lot of that time that goes to deciding what to do with the china, the crystal, the big brown furniture. And then, not only that, but some of the items that are not of monetary value, but of sentimental value. And these can lead to a lot of issues and a lot of fighting within families. "Who gets Grandma's pie plate?" Sometimes those things can cause a lot of friction and a lot of hurt feelings with families. So the stuff, I'd say, is one of the big things that families really have a lot of issues with. And I help families manage and oversee estate clean-outs from the whole process. You know, the not knowing where everything is. Not only how did your loved one, how did they pay bills? Did they have a life insurance policy that you didn't know about? Did they have a prepaid burial plan or a plot, a cemetery plot? Where, and where is this? Have they already been paid for? And just what are the pieces? And along that same vein, the digital estate aspect is really a huge issue in settling a loved one's affairs. It used to be we could just sit by the mailbox and wait for the mail to come in and see all the bills, see the statements of investments or banking accounts, retirement accounts, what have you. But as we know, a lot of our lives are in paperless billing. And so therefore, they're online in a cloud on a device. So many of the issues that I've come across and help families with are just doing sort of the discovery of what were their debts? What were their liabilities? And what were the assets that they had, not only the financial assets, but the exchange, their sky miles, or their airline points, or their Amazon credits? And then, also the memory preservation part of it. Did they have the unlock code to their phone? Did they know where and how they stored photos and those videos of their grandchildren or his brothers and sisters and families in Christmas? A lot of those things can get lost, forgotten, and just not known about after a loved one passes away. So these were a lot of the key themes that I saw over and over again that were really heartbreaking for me. I experienced them personally, but then, walking along a client. So I tried to create a legacy building formula to help families tackle and address some of these issues that were not planned for or thought about while they were still here.

- Sure, yeah. And a lot of those that you mentioned, a lot of people don't even think about until they're right in the middle of it. And I mean, airline miles, I mean, who thinks of that? Nobody, right?

- Yeah, yeah.

- I mean, it's just, it's mind-boggling the amount of things that we accumulate over the years, that our family members know nothing about.

- Absolutely. I mean, the average American internet user has, I believe, 207 online accounts.

- Wow.

- So if you think about that, from your PayPal to your Venmo, to, like I said, your airline points, to your Costco account. All of these things that may have exchange or financial value or are tied to your credit card, that not only do you need to transfer, but maybe close or archive to protect a loved one's identity after they're gone.

- Sure, well, I think in your examples there, it's pretty important why when you offer after-loss consulting, which is crucial, but then, the legacy planning, which is kind of what we're focusing on and what you just described, and why it's important to create that and give everybody a heads-up before someone passes. "Hey, this is what I've got. "These are the ways you can get to point A to point B." So we know why it's important, but when should people start considering taking legacy planning into account? When should they start that process, Rachel?

- Yeah, you know, I heard an estate planning say this one time and it was the best explanation or definition I had heard of an estate. "People think of you as an estate "and that you have to have a certain amount of money. "You have to be wealthy or rich. "If you own things or owe things, you have an estate." So I have to work with clients and legacy planning from their early 40s to their late 80s, whether they were experiencing a health issue or about to have a major life surgery, or whether they had not had any health issues and were in their late 80s and wanted to make sure that all of these little items that we discussed were buttoned up and organized. So if you owe or own, it is time for you to do legacy planning. A lot of people, I think, do it after they have children. But as we're seeing, there are a lot of individuals who've chosen not to have children or never had children. And sometimes they're referred to as elder orphans, which I hate that term. But you know, I think anybody and everybody, you have lived this life, you've worked hard. Why not do everything you can to preserve your legacy and save, whoever it is, whether it's friends, your next door neighbor, family members, the anguish of having to make decisions that you should be doing and you should be planning for while you're still here. So that's a very sort of obtuse answer, but it's for everyone. You know, even I tell friends of mine who have children who were going off to college and they're now 18, "Have you thought about an advanced healthcare directive?" If they went off to school and they got into an accident or something happened, you legally would not be able to speak with their doctors or make decisions on their behalf because they are now legally an adult. So all of these things are just, it's like I said, it is for all ages and for any age.

- Yeah, yeah. And you really do give some really great examples on your website of legacy planning and things that, again, people don't think about. And I wanna dive into some of these things, here in this question. You mentioned taking into consideration things like recipes, family stories, things that can be passed down from one generation to the next.

- Right.

- So what are some of the other ways in regard in that vein that people can ensure that someone will be remembered?

- Right, right. So yes, I think that that can be really, dare I say, fun part of legacy planning is really capturing the essence of you, the essence of your family, the essence of the traditions that you have built over time. You know, this summer, I found one of my father's old itineraries from a family vacation while he was still alive. And my sister found it in some paperwork. And I took that and I've now safeguarded it. And we recreated that vacation this summer with my kids. So having those little things that were just on a random piece of paper that you may want to preserve for the generations to come. Not having my parents around now, not being able to ask those questions of how we're related to Aunt Fern or what have you, those are the things that can be very meaningful and very important to safeguard and preserve. And have conversations around the Thanksgiving table, around the holidays. Go through pictures and talk through all these important, like I said, memories and family members. So not only that from a memory preservation standpoint, but what are those important things that you wanna make sure are passed down to the next generations? And how, like I said, can you safeguard and preserve those? One of the other aspects of it is, you know, I read a statistic, I think it's only 40%, 46% of Americans have a will. And well, yes, that is a very sort of sobering statistic. It's not just about having a will, it's about having the strategy and things organized. So one of the main areas that I help clients with is just getting their estate planning documents organized and leaving those breadcrumbs in essence for their family to find. You may already have that will, but is it in a safety deposit box that nobody has a key to or has access to? Most people may not find that will until 10 days after a death, which may cause a lot of issues in that meantime. So leaving, being organized, and just telling your family, "Hey, this is where my important documents are located. "This is how I pay bills. "This is how you can get access to my banking accounts "in order to pay immediate expenses," or what have you. In working with clients in what I call our legacy building formula is, one of the first steps is I think getting all those important documents organized and in a central place, whether it's a physical form or online digital vault. But then, also helping clients think through, like I said, "Where are all of my online accounts? "How do I keep track of my passwords? "How do I pay accounts? "What are the assets that I have out there?" And then, what are the intangible or the assets out there such as photos, a manuscript, you may have started a book that's out there somewhere. And so where are all of those pieces for your loved one to find those, and then, be able to transfer, archive, or close those assets? I'll tell you a story. I worked with a client earlier this year. Her brother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She did not know the unlock code to his phone. She did not know how many email addresses he had. He was a solopreneur, a single business owner. And I had to help her make a request to Google in order to get access to his Google Drive and all of the assets to be able to find perhaps past tax returns. Were there the agreements of his company for her to be able to close those and prove that the estate was the rightful beneficiary of those accounts? And those businesses, I mean. And many people think, "Oh, I'll just reach out to Google or Apple," what have you, "to be able to get the password,"

- It's not that easy.

- "or to get an unlock code." They do not.

- Yeah.

- So it's also helping clients to be able to ask those questions in the right way. And then, preserve those, like I said, in order for family to have those after a loved one passes away. So it was heartbreaking to see her go through this process, to appeal to Google, to ask them to be able to get access, and then, to basically be denied access to those assets.

- Yeah, that's rough. And something just as simple as him being able to just sit down and sort of organize all of that, maybe take a day a week or something out of his life to make that easier on everybody left behind could have solved all of that and made it so much easier for his family to cope with. So, and that's why we're talking to you here today.

- Yeah.

- To give everybody a heads-up, that, don't leave family members to have to call Google or to have to call Apple 'cause they're not gonna get anywhere. So,

- No, no.

- Let's go to what you provide. You've told us about the services. So overall, packages that you provide people, the cost. How can somebody get in touch with you if they're interested in utilizing your services, Rachel?

- Absolutely. So I have three different packages that I offer, sort of three tiered packages based on your needs, your unique circumstances to help really guide you and provide you with the best organization services that you may need. So our legacy planning packages, they all include that organization of your documents and the digital estate organization. And so they start there, and then, go up in terms of talking about, what are your remembrance wishes and your funeral preferences? Like I said, do you have a prepaid burial plan out there or a family plot where you want to be buried? What are the stories, the recipes, all those things that you want to safeguard? So it sort of goes up from there. If you go to blackdressconsultants.com and click on the Legacy Planning link, it will show you the different options that are available for me to help guide you in your legacy planning journey. And I'm always open to creating a customized package that works for you. This is not a one-size-fits-all, this is a one-size-fits-one. All of our packages include us walking you step-by-step through this process and being in essence, an accountability partner. 'Cause as we know, sometimes that is just what we need in order to get those things done that we've been putting off or procrastinating. It really is the greatest gift you can ever give your family is a well-documented, well-organized, and thought-out legacy plan. And along that same vein of the accountability partner, helping address any knowledge gaps or blind spots that you may have inadvertently overstepped or not thought about.

- Yeah, and I think you mentioned a few here in this interview, so I think people are thinking, "Oh my goodness, I didn't do that. "Maybe I should do that." Well, if you've heard something from Rachel in this interview today that really got your attention, give her a call or head over to her website. And the website is?

- Blackdressconsultants.com. You can also follow me on Instagram @blackdressconsultants. I'm on LinkedIn, Rachel Donnelly of Black Dress Consultants. So all Black Dress Consultants. I'm on all the things online.

- Perfect, Rachel, as I said earlier, I think this is a wonderful business concept and very much needed, in my opinion. Thank you so much for coming on to share this business of yours with our viewers.

- Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

- Absolutely. Well, if you enjoyed this video with Rachel, head on over to our website, it's www.seniorlivinglive.com. We've got so many videos just like this one to help you navigate senior living. Thank you so much for being a part of Senior Living Live. Have a great day, everybody.

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