What happens to your stuff when you are gone? Usually when people pass away there is a huge focus on the things they owned and who gets what. But a legacy isn’t only about leaving what you’ve earned but also what you’ve learned.
The notion that you can have a lasting legacy by handing down ideas and values may be a totally new way to look at it. Here are some ways you could pass on the things and ideas, as well as your wealth.
Through your Will – There are many ways you can leave a legacy. The most obvious, of course, is bequeathing an inheritance to your survivors through your last will and testament.
Through Physical Things – My Aunt, who I hope lives many decades more, once asked each of her nieces and nephews what ‘thing’ we wanted to inherit from her house that she could include in her will. I picked a piano stool because as a child I would swing around in circles on such a stool and thought it great fun. Sometime small tokens have outsized joy. She can be assured that the selections written in her will have meaning to each recipient.
Through Charity – Another way you could leave a legacy is by contributing money or the equivalent (like cars, boats, antiques) to a charitable cause that reflects your values. These wishes can be accomplished both during your life and by your written will at the end.
Through Example – Many of my clients involve their children in supporting the causes they care about. While giving their time, talent and treasures, they ask the kids to help lend a hand at events by being volunteers.
Throughout your Life – You could create a meaningful gifting plan so your kids and grandkids would receive money while you’re alive, allowing you to watch them benefit from your generosity. This could include gifting annually over several years to avoid gift taxes, or occasionally such as when one child/grandchild needs help.
Through Thoughtful Downsizing – My mother (who I insist must live to be 100) has been downsizing her possessions for several years. With 6 kids, she has somehow found and disseminated our baby rings, 6 of my grandmother’s homemade quilts, 6 selections from her 25th wedding anniversary presents, 6 sets of meaningful photographs from our childhoods, and so on. She has managed to downsize her house while reminding us of our collective happy family memories.
Through Beneficiary Election – Naming a person or collection of people on your bank, brokerage or retirement account bypasses the will and the probate process (which can be lengthy, costly and public). Your accounts should be reviewed periodically (every few years) so that you don’t unintentionally disinherit a new arrival such as a child or grandchild. Nor would you want an exspouse or deceased parent to remain named when they are gone. Reviewing these with your advisor every few years may help keep your intentions in line with changes over your lifetime.
Through Business Ownership – If you own a business that has ongoing value, you’ll want to make sure that it continues to thrive after you are no longer able (or want) to run it. It would be a good idea to plan ahead if you have family with the interest and acumen to continue running and growing that business. One possibility is to give them increasing control over the business while you gradually step back.
Each family’s needs and wants are somewhat unique. Talk to your financial planner to help formulate your legacy so that you could have a lasting impact spanning way beyond your lifetime.