Many questions are difficult to answer. The answer to the question, what does it mean to leave a legacy, is no exception. Why?
One can define a legacy in many ways. Most people think a legacy means how much money you leave behind. That's certainly a big part of it for most people. However, a legacy is much more than how much money and property gets transferred to your heirs.
I have to admit, though, most of the focus seems to be on the money aspect. Don't get me wrong. Our wealth, how we created it, how we use it, and how we leave it to our heirs, are critical parts of leaving a legacy.
Many who have created wealth came from a background of poverty. The drive to leave a legacy often is to make sure their kids don't suffer the same fate they did growing up. That's an honorable and worthy goal.
Today, we're going to talk about legacy little differently. We won't ignore money. We will put it into its proper context. I' m sure there are different views and opinions on the matter. And I'd love to hear how you think about legacy.
Start with your purpose
Start with your purpose, your “why.” That will help define the rest of the plan.
I talked briefly about that in a recent post about things I think are more important than money. In that post, I said, “Our values will shape our legacy. They define who we are and should guide our decisions in every area of our lives.”
Maybe an even more important question I asked was, “How do you want to be remembered?”
Our values should guide how we live. They give us the motivation to do the work necessary to achieve what we're trying to accomplish. A life without values is an empty existence. We may find ourselves moving from shiny object to shiny object trying to find happiness. We will find that happiness elusive.
If you identify with that description, perhaps it's time to slow down and think about your “why.” Once you determine your purpose, you can begin the process of putting a plan in place to match your life with that purpose.
One of my good blogger friends is The Physician Philosopher. If you want to know how to leave a lasting legacy, here's your textbook example. He recently posted An Open Love Letter to My Wife for the world to see. If you can get through it without tears, let me know how you did it.
That's how you leave a lasting legacy, my friends!
A recent Gallup survey said that 51% of Americans feel no connection to their jobs. Those workers only do the minimum amount of work necessary. What does that say about their values?
I would say their values don't match their work. If people run into someone in that 51%, do you think they would be happy? Or would they likely be a complainer? What effect might that have on a marriage? How about their relationships with their kids?
Do you think their kids would grow up with a similar attitude? Or are they likely to grow up as complainers as well?
I'm not saying someone who is unhappy with their jobs will automatically be complainers. Nor am I saying they don't have good values. Some view their jobs as a means to an end. Their values do not connect to their jobs.
However, I'm guessing those who are unhappy with their work where they spend eight hours or more a day will carry that unhappiness home with them. That's never good for the family.
Can you adjust your attitude toward your work?. Can you be content in your current position? Is there a way to make your current job better? Are you willing to work on having a better attitude and do more than required of you in your current position?
If not, are there other options in your current job. Is there another division or department that would suit you better? If you worked harder with a better attitude, would that lead to a promotion and a better work environment?
Is the answer no to all of these questions? Then maybe it's time to update your resume' and look for another job. If you choose that route, take the time to go through the discovery process I described earlier to determine what job or career would match your values.
Your attitude is up to you. If you find yourself miserable in your job, work on changing your mindset. The bottom line – you control you.
Your estate plan
Values are the foundation for planning your legacy, both financial and otherwise. Let's talk briefly about the financial legacy. In other words, what do you want to happen with your stuff when you die.
You need to think about who you want to inherit your property (cash, real estate, investments, IRAs, etc.).
Think about how you want them to receive your property – Outright? At certain ages? Over time? Can they manage on their own?
To accomplish that, you need legal documents in place. I've written about the four documents you need to have in your estate plan. Without the proper legal documents, the state in which you live decides what happens for you. The legal term for this is dying intestate (without a will).
Each state has its own process. Typically, they follow a similar pattern that looks to your spouse, your children, your siblings, and your parents, not necessarily in that order. In other words, they try to locate the closest next of kin to pass along your property. Even if that matches what you desire (highly unlikely), it will take a lot more time than it would with the proper documents in place.
It's a small price to pay in legal fees and time to assure your property passes the way you want. Think about who should get your property, in what form, and when. Then consult a local estate planning attorney to help you create the legal documents necessary.
Once the legal documents are complete, it's time to think about the non-legal pieces of the legacy.
The non-financial legacy
Are you a giver or a taker? Are you a hard worker or one who does the minimum and works the system? Do you want your legacy to be an inheritance of a bad attitude and work ethic? I doubt that would be the case.
For many parents, their legacy lives on in their kids. What values are you teaching them? Do they see you treating others with respect and compassion? Or do they see you negatively talking about others?
Do they see you acting with integrity and honesty when you deal with others? Or do they see you cutting corners or, even worse, cheating to get what you want?
Do they see you treating your wife or husband with the love and respect a spouse deserves? Or do they see you yelling and belittling your spouse? Do you teach them one thing and do something entirely different than what you expect of them?
Though unwritten, all of these things contribute to the legacy you leave in your kids. Their work ethic, the way they treat others, the way they treat their spouses and the whether they grow up to be men and women of integrity will be shaped by how they see you living as a parent.
They are watching and learning. Be careful what you teach.
Causes you champion
Another part of the legacy you can leave relates to what causes you support. Are you a man or woman of faith? If so, does your annual giving to your church reflect that faith? Does the amount of time you spend serving or volunteering reflect that faith?
The national statistics on giving would say otherwise. According to The National Philanthropic Trust, 2016 giving amounted to 2.1% of the gross domestic product. That doesn't reflect a giving spirit. Like with any statistical data, there are many exceptions to the norm.
How much time we spend volunteering is another way we can leave a legacy. When our son was younger, we were youth volunteers at with our church's senior high youth program. We went on projects throughout the city to help those less fortunate. It gave him an excellent example that he's adapted to his own life. Though he thoroughly messed up his life with addiction, he has never lost the spirit of giving by helping others less fortunate, even during the times he was incarcerated.
Passing on your wealth
Yes, leaving a legacy involves transferring your wealth and is an important, if not the most critical aspect of leaving a legacy.
However, if you leave a vast amount of wealth to your kids and they are irresponsible with money, the legacy will be short-lived. If you don't teach them how to value what they have, how to protect and preserve it, I've seen too many cases where the money is gone in a very short period.
I've also seen many families torn apart because parents didn't tell the kids what they could expect and why. Dealing with the difficult issues in advance is a way to preserve what you've worked so hard to build.
There are other ways to communicate your legacy to your loved ones. Consider writing them a testamentary (after death) letter that tells them how much you loved them. The message might also tell them what you expect of them for the rest of their lives. The letter is a simple love letter to let them know how much they are loved and encourage them to hold on to the values you taught them growing up.
Hopefully, you've taught them good financial management skills along the way. That will make it much easier for them to manage the financial piece of the legacy you leave behind.
In summary, here are the steps to set up your legacy.
- Start with your purpose. Know the why. That drives everything else in your planning.
- Start reflecting your purpose in the way you live. That's the legacy your kids will inherit as they watch you live your life.
- Leaving instructions behind is the only way to assure your property gets passed on in an efficient and timely manner. Get the legal documents in place.
It's never too early to start. It's never too late either. Whether you're a Millennial, a Gen Xer, or a Boomer, the time to start is now.
And now it's your turn. Have you thought about your legacy? Do you have a plan in place? Are your values reflected in how you live your life? Let me know in the comments below.