The Legacy Series
I believe good legacies are left on purpose, while poor legacies are left because they lack purpose. There are a number of important things in life that are easy to say, but hard to do. Leaving a legacy is one of those things. In this three-part series, I’ll share some thoughts and exercises that will ensure that your legacy has a positive influence on the next generation or two. The multiplied effect will result in a much better life for your family, and maybe even a better world.
Part I: Choose Your Legacy
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines legacy as:
- A gift by will, especially of money or other personal property.
- Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.
Let’s explore the differences between these definitions.
Imagine you have a grandchild whom you love very much. He or she is healthy, well-adjusted, and excels at school. Your desire is to enrich your grandchild’s life. Here are two ways to do it.
- You can leave a bundle of cash for the child by putting one million dollars in a paper bag. The bag contains no instructions. It is up to your grandchild to determine how to spend or manage the money.
- You can leave a belief system for the child by sharing your convictions and ideas about faith, family traditions, work ethic, character, and giving back.
The “bundle of cash” is, of course, the easiest option, and for most people, the default option. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to make sure that your family is financially secure after your passing. But twenty years later, after all the sadness and stress of settling your estate has gone, which kind of legacy do you believe will be of greater value to your heirs? Your money, or your values?
It’s harder to make a belief system your legacy. It must be earned through communication. Imparting your beliefs requires time and interaction. It may involve deep and heartfelt conversations, activities that create opportunities for discussion, or participation in groups and events that reflect your values.
Here is an activity that can help you leave a legacy beyond money. Read through the exercise and mold it to fit your needs and the needs of your family.
Legacy Activity #1 Life Remembrances
Consider this ancient Jewish saying: “The most vulnerable people are those who are dead.”
The concept is that when you're gone, you lose your voice; you can’t speak up; you can’t defend yourself. Your legacy is set in stone and made by how others will judge you after you’re gone.
So, speak up!
Don’t leave your loved ones to guess or speculate about the experiences that made you, well, you. I’ll bet you have a relative or two whom you’ve wondered about: What inspired them to come to America? What did they love most about their spouse? What experiences shaped them as a person?
You can answer every question in detail, creating and printing a memoir or creating a digital audio or video recording. Or, you can pick out three questions you like and jot down your answers to be kept with your estate paperwork.
And if you’re not a natural writer or get nervous when speaking on camera, don’t worry. Anything you leave as a testament will be better than nothing, and your heirs will treasure hearing your story in your words, even if they aren’t perfect. Just try to be as open and detailed as possible to maximize the value and impact of your answers.
- What was your first childhood memory?
- When you were five or six, what did you want to be when you grew up?
- What was your favorite holiday when you were a child? Why?
- What were your parents like growing up?
- What were your grandparents like?
- Who was your favorite teacher? Why? What did you learn from them?
- List a few of your favorite activities growing up.
- What was it about your spouse that made you fall in love?
- Which of your life accomplishments have made you most proud?
- What was your favorite subject in high school?
- Who was your best friend in grade school? Share a story about a memorable experience with them.
- What piece of advice do you wish you had received at the beginning of adulthood?
- What is one of the biggest mistakes you made and, with hindsight, what should you have done differently?
- What book had the biggest impact on your life?
- What was the single best career decision you ever made?
- What do you value most in life?
- What is the most important piece of advice you can give on marriage?
- What is the most important piece of advice you can give on parenting?
- Looking back, what do you wish someone would have taught you about money?
- Outside of your family, what organization or cause is most important to you?
When you finish, determine if you want to share your thoughts with your loved ones while you’re alive or whether you want to leave it as a gift for them after you’re gone. And don’t forget to file your Life Remembrance exercise with all your other estate documents, and let your spouse and beneficiaries know where these documents are.
Choosing the kind of legacy you want to leave for your heirs is just the first step in an important process. In my upcoming Legacy Series blog posts, I’ll discuss how gratitude towards your loved ones can shape your legacy for the better and some best practices for communicating your final wishes to your heirs.
Jack Davis is the founder and CEO of Navigation Retirement Group, an independent wealth management firm serving high achieving retirees and pre-retirees with investable assets between one and ten million dollars. For nearly three decades, he has been using his asset management and financial planning skills to develop and implement planning strategies that help pursue his clients’ unique goals. Passionate about education, he holds a Masters in Personal Finance and the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ credential. He is also the author of Cash Out! Retire on Your Terms, Live Well and Die Happy, a book that gives pre-retirees and retirees planning tools and insights that can help them flourish throughout retirement. Based in Oro Valley, he and his team serve clients throughout the greater Tucson area and around the country. Learn more by connecting with Jack on LinkedIn.
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