Some Thoughts on Legacy

Legacy means so much more than the assets we leave behind in the form of an inheritance.  Most of us never give much thought to what our legacy might be, but rather we think about a will or trust that carefully lays out how our property is distributed after we are gone.  It’s usually about our “stuff.”  

Interestingly, studies on adults and their inheritances may surprise and disappoint you.  The Journal of Family and Economic Issues reported that adults who receive an inheritance save only half of what they receive.  Other studies point to statistics showing virtually all money or property left to loved ones in the form of an inheritance is spent within nine months.  So thinking in terms of money and property, a legacy has a very short shelf life.  With that in mind, let’s explore other ways to leave a legacy that will live on long after you are gone.

Charitable Giving.  Most obviously charitable giving  provides support to a cause or causes you deem important.  But it is also a teaching moment for your loved ones; it reinforces the importance of providing for the greater good.  Many of us have made quiet personal promises to support a charity or cause “later,” or “when we can better afford it.”  Making room in your final wishes for charitable giving answers those promises.  Aside from the tax advantage charitable bequests generate, this selfless act can echo for generations.  Many people leave a percentage of their estate to charity instead of a specific dollar amount.  By leaving a percentage, your family and charity will receive proportionate shares regardless of how large or small your estate is.

Instead of leaving money to a charity in a will, you may also consider naming a charity as a beneficiary of an insurance policy or retirement plan. 

Ethical will.  An ethical will has ancient origins, originally appearing in the Book of Genesis when a dying Jacob spoke with his sons to share wisdom and his hopes for how they should live their lives. Originally, ethical wills were communicated orally, but were later written as letters.  Today, ethical wills are known as “legacy letters.” It is a way to communicate to loved ones your hopes and dreams, regrets, and lessons learned.  Often apologies are offered and forgiveness is sought.  Family lore, favorite jobs, funny stories may all be part of your letter.  Think of a legacy letter as a way to pass along wisdom and love to a future generation.  

Preserving family history. Consider writing down your family stories on your own or through a subscription such as StoryWorth.  It’s a way to collect family stories and preserve them in a keepsake book.  The recipient of a StoryWorth gift is emailed questions each week for a year, but they can skip a week or select their own prompts.  These questions are a starting point to tell your story and document your family history.  A true gift for your family.

Life can change in an instant.  What are you waiting for?