“Every one of us receives and passes on an inheritance. The inheritance may not be an accumulation of earthly possessions or acquired riches, but whether we realize it or not, our choices, words, actions, and values will impact someone and form the heritage we hand down.” — Ben Hardesty
In our office, we call that “legacy planning,” because it’s not just about transferring ‘stuff’, it’s all about transferring a legacy to our heirs. Legacy captures more than the mere transfer of wealth, but includes sharing family traditions and history, life stories, values, hopes and dreams. Most you probably view estate planning documents as antiseptic, dry and impersonal, containing Article upon Article and Section upon Section of legal jargon that you neither understand nor care much about. Why not leave something of yourself, something meaningful for the next generation?
Legacy planning includes a discussion of how you can utilize wealth for meaning and impact, and how you can purposefully account for family values and closely-held beliefs. It’s a type of planning approach that imparts wisdom to heirs, and guides inherited assets. It can transform your thinking and change the focus from money, material items and legal documents to creating roots and establishing a family narrative. Think about how you would like to positively impact and influence the future generations of your family in ways that extend beyond monetary wealth.
We recommend that you leave a legacy letter. Instead of just leaving “legal documents,” which are certainly important to the process, why not also leave a “personal document,” one that expresses who you are and how you wish to be remembered. A legacy letter can incorporate family history, stories, statements of appreciation, life lessons and anything else you deem important to how you lived your life and became the person you are.
But our values can be hard to capture in language. They seem second nature to us only because we live them every day. Here are some sample questions to help you identify your (perhaps) rarely-spoken moral code and communicate it to the next generation:
- Is there a life event or experience from which you can draw a lesson? For instance, did you bypass an opportunity that you regret not having taken advantage of?
- Do you regret cutting short your education? You can use the legacy letter or video to instruct grandchildren not to do the same.
- Perhaps you feel the need to explain a decision you made or a direction you took.
- Do you want to tell your children how proud you are of them and the choices they’ve made in life?
- Is there something about relationships that you’ve learned over your lifetime that you feel will help your children/grandchildren as they live their lives?
- Are there values you hope your descendants will adopt and live by? Do you want to pass on a life lesson or teach them a moral or ethical principle?
- Do you want to record a family history and impart lessons you learned along the way?
- Maybe you just want to say ‘thank you’ for the support they’ve given and the love they’ve demonstrated throughout their lives.