Create Your LegacyGary G. Hargoves and Susann Montgomery-Clark
What is your Legacy? This may seem to be a simple enough question, but to anyone who has contemplated the totality of his or her life and lifetime, the response can be daunting. Legacy is a word filled with a depth of meaning. Webster’s definition is “something that is handed down or remains from a previous generation or time” and “money or property that is left to someone in a will.”
One way our parents and grandparents created legacies was by simply practicing the values and traditions that their ancestors practiced for generations and handed down to them. In some instances, they also left financial legacies to their families and charities. As you can see, legacies are created by living by a certain set of values, raising our families a certain way, practicing our faith or religious rituals or traditions, and more tangibly through estate planning with bequests to loved ones and possibly charity.
Discovering Your Legacy
Discovering your legacy is a process of learning and understanding the fullness and richness of your dreams. This usually starts with some big picture ideas and feelings about the legacies you want to leave. As you start to craft the details of your wishes and the resources to be used to implement those wishes, legal complexities can arise and logistical obstacles and challenges may emerge. Facing these circumstances, you adjust and continue the journey to "discover your legacy." You find that it is a mixture of your love and desire for persons dear to you, the realities of their lives and relationships, the causes and larger community issues important to you, and the laws of the land that set the boundaries of the planning process.
Planning Your Legacy
This is the process of creating a formal plan for your net worth through your estate. It’s important to start with your values and objectives. Ask yourself: “Do I want to perpetuate the values that I’ve held dear during my lifetime? How do I want to be remembered? What impact have I made, either with my family, other loved ones, friends, my business or philanthropically? Can I continue to make an impact through my estate plan?”
In planning your legacy for children, think about what your goals and objectives are for them. Do you want them to enjoy their inheritance, and yet still be productive? Often times, parents pass assets to their children over time through a trust to assure professional asset management. Is there a family tradition you want to continue after you are gone? One donor wanted to create a trust to fund a cruise every year for her children and grandchildren, because she had done that annually for them for many years. One left a fund for a family reunion each year to ensure the entire family never lost touch. These were traditions they wanted to perpetuate.
Do you want your estate to impact not only your children’s lives, but also social causes that are important to you? A gift through your estate plan is one of the most affordable (when you don’t need the money and you can’t take it with you!) anyone can make. Many nonprofits suggest a gift of approximately twenty times an annual gift to permanently endow that gift. A bequest of $20,000, at an annual distribution rate of 5%, could permanently fund an annual gift of $1,000 after your lifetime. Your gift can “live forever” and create a lasting legacy in your name.
Implementing Your Legacy
This is the easiest part of the whole process. Ideally, your attorney and other advisors have participated in some or all of the above considerations. Now, your attorney prepares the documents needed to implement your plan and other advisors may make arrangements as needed. A meeting is scheduled and the documents are signed. The only thing left is an appropriate celebration. In some cases you will want to inform others and celebrate your plans together.
To add finishing touches to "creating our legacy," one of the most important legacies we can leave is to write "a letter to loved ones," which is a personal letter that is written to each individual important to us. This is a private letter and is only opened after you are gone. In the letter, you can share your love, appreciation and hope for the person. You can pass on important family stories, history about our ancestors and other personal information. Lastly, if you have included charitable organizations in your estate plan, you can inform the charities of your intention and let them include your names or share your story as a testimony and example for others. Very few charities reveal financial details in telling donor stories.
An old cliché states, anyone can count the number of seeds in an apple; no one can count the number of apples in a seed. So it is with our legacy!
People who complete their estate plans are usually very proud and realize the joy of creating a legacy. Parents know that this is one of the greatest gifts they could leave their children. If they have been able to make charitable gifts through their estate plan, while not depriving their children, they are able to experience the joy of being able to create a lasting legacy, not only to their families, but to their community as well.