For the Love of Family, For the Love of Trails

February 12, 2020
Robert C. Ross
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


For the Love of Family, For the Love of Trails
Amber, June, and Justin Ray hiking in New Jersey. Photo by Amber Ray.


Since the creation of the Trail Angel Society, I’ve been working with Trail Conference Communications Manager Amber Ray to encourage people to protect themselves and their loved ones through estate planning. Empowering people to safeguard their most valuable assets—and yes, I’m referring to their spouses and children and other loved ones!—is very important to me.

So you may have noticed this space in Trail Walker has consistently urged readers to make an estate plan. Author Jill Schlesinger puts it bluntly in The Dumb Things Smart People Do with Their Money:

“Of all the off-the-hook stupid mistakes you can make with your money, failing to have a will is indisputably the worst. Not only can it result in massive financial losses for your loved ones, depending on the size of the estate, but it can also cause them any number of other hardships. Want to leave open the possibility that the people closest to you don’t receive any money from your estate, while other, less deserving people do? Want to leave open the possibility that your minor children are improperly cared for after you’re gone? Or that your loved ones have to sell heirloom property in order to pay estate taxes or settle other debts? Or that… they have to undergo terrible stress, anxiety, and hassle? Then, by all means, don’t get a will. Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t engage in any other form of end-of-life planning, either.”

At the 2019 Trail Conference Benefit, Amber delivered the same message from her own personal experience:

“Today, I’d like to talk about love. And I want to talk about two kinds of love in particular—the love of family, and the love of trails.

We all work hard to show love to our families, but have we created a will to show our love after we’re gone? Fifty-eight percent of Americans do not have an estate plan, and many existing plans are not up-to-date.

To motivate more of us to take this important step, one of our trail-loving members has a challenge for each of us. This generous donor will immediately donate $500 to the Trail Conference for every one of us who pledges to name our organization in her or her will. His passion for encouraging people to take care of themselves and their families by getting their affairs in order was the spark I needed to draw up a will for my family.

It may have taken a little convincing, but I finally made the appointment for my husband and I to meet with a lawyer. As a young couple, we are not alone in delaying making these provisions for our daughter. Only 38% of Americans with little ones have done so. If your kids are among that other 62%, please urge them to make a will and appoint a guardian for your grandchildren. I realized having the formal means to protect our young daughter when we are no longer able to care for her wasn’t something I could keep putting off.

We try to live a fairly simple life, putting great value in spending as much time outdoors as possible. It was only through the process of creating a will that I realized I don’t need a large estate to protect both my daughter and her outdoor experience, even after I’m gone. So I am putting the Trail Conference in my estate plans to ensure our mission is carried on.

Our donor has research that shows that virtually every person who pledges this really does it. So our donor trusts us. He has done this successfully for other nonprofit organizations. He is now willing to do this for us. Please sign a trail pledge to leave any amount you wish to the Trail Conference and demonstrate both of your loves—the love of your family and your love of trails.”

Whatever you do, make an estate plan for your sake, for the sake of the people you love, and for the sake of the organizations that you love.

Making the Most of Your Legacy by Michael Dunne, CFP, Financial Advisor, Cereus Financial Advisors, LLC.

On Sept. 8, I had the privilege of meeting the founding members of the Trail Angel Society and presented my ideas on how to maximize their legacies at their Founding Members’ Brunch, held at Trail Conference Headquarters. I was grateful for their engaged participation, as it made for an interactive discussion.

Echoing Trail Conference Life Member and fellow Trail Angel Society Founding Member Bob Ross, The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty suggests, “…think about planning your estate as planning your legacy. It’s your opportunity to make your mark on the world—to help and protect the people you care about most. It is your opportunity to give back to your community, or university, or cause.”

We spent about an hour post-brunch talking about the use of donor-advised funds, qualified charitable distributions, and a few other legacy-maximizing techniques, including beneficiary designations, charitable trusts, and charitable gift annuities. You can find some introductory information about these strategies at If you’re interested in learning more about your options, please feel free to contact me at 201- 848-6802 or [email protected].