So the Thanksgiving feasting and ensuing coma are behind us. Some of you may have managed to get off the sofa long enough to get to the ridiculous Black Friday sales at some unholy hour while the rest of us were still sleeping off our tryptophan overdoses. But the real question is: why have you made this supreme effort?
Let’s start with Black Friday itself. Many people think that Black Friday was originally so named because it was the one shopping day of the year when retailers actually went from ‘in the red’ (i.e. in debt) to ‘in the black’ (i.e. turning a profit). But little do most people know that the day after Thanksgiving was dubbed as Black Friday way back in the carefree 1970s due to the disruptive and heavy traffic that occurred due to shopping sales. No less august a source than Wikipedia says so: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Friday_%28shopping%29.
So the term ‘Black Friday’ originated with the emotions of irritation and frustration. Rather fitting, wouldn’t you say? In the decades since the phrase was coined, there have been increasingly disturbing (and/or amusing, depending on your point of view) incidents of stampedes, violence and general ‘is-this-really-happening’-ness. Who knew that when they called the United States the home of the brave, they were talking about those intrepid enough to brave a 5 AM stampede for a 60 inch television that requires a great left hook and disregard for the possibility of an assault charge to obtain? In case you haven’t watched the news in the last decade, you can read about some incidents here: http://www.capitalgazette.com/news/ph-ac-cn-annapolis-mall-1128-20141128,0,7857278.story ; http://www.longisland.com/news/11-29-14/protests-stabbing-surround-black-friday-on-long-island.html . The fact that the television will be outdated in 18 months is, of course, a minor detail.
This year, the madness spread to our brethren across the pond. American style stampedes have spread to the UK. The land of the Royals, tea and crumpets, and the stiff upper lip has thrown away all decorum for televisions (why is it always televisions?) made in China. (Check out the news and unbelievable photos here: http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/28/world/europe/black-friday-uk/ and here: http://news.sky.com/story/1381823/black-friday-police-anger-amid-retail-frenzy ) It’s just a matter of time before it spreads to the rest of Europe. Can we pause for a moment to imagine what the French would stampede for? And how that may look in a 10 second B-roll clip on the news?
The real question about Black Friday is why are we expending tremendous amounts of money, time and risking our criminal records for television sets? There was a time when I was a young adolescent and insisted that the only thing I wanted to inherit from my parents was their stereo set – the kind that had a turntable and a cassette player. Yes, I had great vision and a keen sense of technological trends in music. But it’s not the stereos, televisions or any other hot gadget of the moment that should be your main concern.
What we leave behind to our heirs (be they blood relations, blended family, great friends or our favorite charity) is more than just our ‘stuff’. What we leave behind is our legacy (and it’s likely not your laptop or your television). The most effective way to do that is to create a comprehensive estate plan that passes along to your heirs your property and assets wrapped in your values. Estate plans can be incredibly flexible but you need to know what your goals are. Any good estate planning attorney will talk to you at length about what you want to accomplish and not just discuss your list of assets.
So this holiday season, try eschewing the television (it’s always about the televisions!) and focusing on your legacy. It will be the most important thing you do and so much more memorable than that big bulky box that doesn’t fit under the tree.