Why Leaving a Legacy Should be Important to You

leaving a legacy

Leaving a legacy is a topic much discussed. But, unfortunately, it’s also one that people readily avoid. Why? Because to discuss leaving a legacy, we have to come face to face with our mortality. Let’s face it. That’s not something many of us are comfortable doing.

One can define a legacy in many ways. Most people think a legacy means how much money you leave behind to the next generation or future generations. 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 mark behind.

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 admirable and worthy goal.

Today, we’re going to talk about legacy a little differently. We won’t ignore money. Instead, 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.

Like any successful venture, you need a plan to help you get there. Leaving a legacy is no different.

Start with your purpose, your “why.” That will help define the rest of the plan.

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. Nothing else matters if you have no purpose. We may find ourselves moving from shiny object to shiny object, trying to find happiness.  But, unfortunately, 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 putting a plan in place to match your life with that purpose.

So if you want to know how to leave a lasting legacy, here’s your textbook example.

The Physician Philosopher posted An Open Love Letter to My Wife for the world to see. He talks about how he leaves a legacy. 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!

Your career

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 unhappy with their jobs will automatically be a complainer. Nor am I saying they don’t have good values. But, unfortunately, some view their jobs as a means to an end. As a result, their values do not connect to their jobs.

However, I’m guessing those unhappy with their work spending eight hours or more a day will carry that unhappiness home with them. Good things never occur with the family with this kind of attitude.

Making adjustments

If you take the time to think about your purpose and find out how your everyday living doesn’t match, what can you do?

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 have a better attitude and do more than your employer requires in your current position?

If not, are there other options in your current job? For example, 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 yourself.

Your estate plan

Values are the foundation for planning your legacy, both financial and otherwise. So let’s talk briefly about the financial legacy. In other words, what does a person want to happen with their stuff after they passed away?

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 – All of it at once? At certain ages? Over a certain number of years? Can they manage on their own?

To accomplish that, you need legal documents in place. 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 process. Typically, they follow a similar pattern that looks to your spouse, children, siblings, and 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 ensure your property passes the way you want. First, 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 when you are in a “better place.”

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.

To have the longest-lasting legacy, many parents have their legacy live 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 as a good mother or father? Are 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, how they treat others, their spouses, and whether your kids 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. So be careful what you teach.

Causes you support

Another part of the legacy you can leave relates to what causes you support. For example, 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. But, like with any statistical data, there are many exceptions to the norm.

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.

One of my favorite legacy quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson

Suppose you take the time to think about your purpose and find out how you are every day. But, first, every day doesn’t match, what can you do?

Start a new program to help others that will help make the world a bit better, whether it’s completely brand new to you. It’s a great use of your time. 

How much time we spend volunteering to make the world a little better can leave a legacy. Just know even one life you touch can make a difference.

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 family legacy.

However, if you leave a vast amount of wealth to your kids and are not financially responsible with money, even the greatest legacy will be short-lived. 

If you don’t teach them how to value what they have and protect and preserve it, I’ve seen too many cases where the money is gone in a brief period.

I’ve also seen many families torn apart because parents didn’t tell the kids what they could expect and why. Dealing with complex issues in advance is a way to preserve what you’ve worked so hard to build.

Final thoughts

There are other ways to communicate your legacy to your loved ones. A great example is to write something worth reading in a testamentary (after death) for your family members about how much you loved them. 

It’s something worth writing about. And, with the ease of technology, you can also record a video.

The message might also tell them what you expect of them for the rest of their lives. Leave legacy questions to ask themselves.

The letter is a simple love letter to let them know how much they are loved. Also, encourage them to hold on to the values you taught them growing up and share them among family stories.

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 on 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 ensure your property gets passed on in an efficient and timely manner. But, first, 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?

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