Leaving a Legacy: Some Practical Advice
In the charity world, we talk a lot about legacy. In fact, May is legacy month! But, what does legacy mean and what does it look like to leave one that is meaningful? Here is some practical advice on creating your legacy and what it might look like for you.
Legacy by Definition
Dictionary.com has five points under its definition of legacy. We are going to focus on two of those.
Legacy in terms of law – a gift of property, especially personal, as money, by will (i.e. a bequest).
Legacy in terms of values – anything handed down from the past, as from someone who came before you.
In an insightful Ted Talk, Jane Fonda talks about aging as a staircase: “the upward ascension of the human spirit.” As we get older, we rise into our ‘third act’ – the last three decades of our life that allow us to think about our past with new eyes. This reflection often leads us to talk about ‘legacy’. What will your legacy be? In terms of values passed to the next generation. In terms of material wealth given.
My Life’s Legacy
How often have you been told to ‘live your best life’? Media often focuses on health, freedom, and family. Things that are important to us, especially later in life. And, if you’re coming from a background of faith, we are encouraged to take that a step further, ‘live your best life for the sake of those around you.’ A worthy goal, but what does this look like?
An obvious first step to living your best life for others, is being a good role model. Spend time with the youth in your life volunteering, doing acts of kindness, speaking about generosity. Your lifestyle habits will leave an impression with them.
Explore your history. Take the time to write down your story. We have so many tools at our finger tips to help us find out where we came from and what our ancestors were like. Does your family know the story of your parents, of their parents? Taking some time to record your family history in terms of geography, culture or faith can be a very special gift to the younger people in your family.
A Legacy of Dinnerware
Our things are often wrapped up in memories. And those memories give them value. Many of us have been blessed with the family china set. Maybe it came from another country with your parents, or it was a wedding gift. It has sat on the buffet, only coming out for special meals. Now, how many of you have tried to offer that dinner set to a grandchild, who is less than enthusiastic?
There’s a story of a woman who carefully placed sticky notes on all her belongings, saying who gets what when she passes. When it came time for her family to clean her apartment and divide the stuff, all the sticky notes had fallen to the ground! It was a mess, and some family members began to fight over who would get what.
Instead of leaving 100 sticky notes, try writing a ‘legacy letter’, sometimes referred to as an ‘ethical will’. This is a great opportunity to speak to your loved ones about your life, your values (how you see your legacy) or anything you wish to let them know. If you are more of a talker, think about recording your message on video. The best part, you can share it with your loved ones now.
My Legal Legacy
Finally, your legal legacy should something you should consider preparing now, so that your loved ones aren’t left with loose ends to tie up after you’ve passed.
Your will is a final statement of your values and provides direction for the care of your family in the event of your death. When you include a gift to charity in your will, your generosity is extended to the causes you care about and leaves a legacy that impacts others. Leaving a gift to charity in your will can also provide tax credits.
Your Will & Estate Planning Guide is a useful booklet to help you think through this process. Note, you should speak with a lawyer about making a new will, or to make changes to an existing will, and with a tax adviser concerning any tax implications with your will or estate.
My Legacy Today
However you choose to leave your mark on the world, remember that your legacy starts today. Start looking into your history now. Say what you have always wanted to say to your loved ones. Create a giving plan and give to the causes you care about today and in the future.Here’s some practical advice on how to leave a legacy. Both in terms of your values and your assets.
Contributed by: Yvonne Douma
Gift Planning Consultant