leg·a·cy

noun \ˈle-gə-sē\

: something (such as property or money) that is received from someone who has died

: something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past

  • Mirriam Webster

The first best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, The second best time is right now.

  • Chinese Proverb

What does leaving a legacy mean to you? To me, the question is twofold:  First, did I protect my financial assets for my loved ones and have I made my wishes known and memorialized in the event of death or incapacity, and secondly, did my life have meaning?

The busyness of life can get in the way of the best of intentions, and planning for your own demise or incapacity can be morbid. But this element of planning isn’t for you – it’s for who you leave behind.  And, whether you plan now or leave a mess for your family to cleanup, your affairs will ultimately get organized.

It doesn’t matter how well your investments do or what your net worth is if you end up losing it to taxes, probate costs or nursing home costs. What if your life insurance or IRA goes to people you don’t want it to go to because you didn’t take care of naming or updating beneficiary designations?

Perhaps you think you are too young to have an estate plan. Do you remember Terri Schiavo, who, at age 28, collapsed in her home? She was on life support for years while her family was torn apart, all because she didn’t have the proper incapacity documents in place.

The second element of legacy planning has to do with finding meaning in life. What did you leave behind, either tangible or intangible, for future generations?

The Iroquois Indians lived based upon the Seventh Generation Principle. Virtually every decision was made based upon the concept of whether or not the decision would be deemed a good one seven generations on.  How would thinking this way change your perspective on life?

Many would argue that instilling confidence or values in another is more important than leaving financial assets. It’s the “teach a man to fish” idea.  Perhaps you taught a child an important value that will be passed on to his or her children.  For example, maybe you taught the importance of charity or hard work.  Perhaps you simply led a happy life and you were a good listener, and made people feel important.

Everyone remembers someone from their past who perhaps mentored them, or complemented or encouraged a budding talent. Many people can trace their success in life to just one or two people.  That’s what making the world a better place is all about.  Wouldn’t it be gratifying to know that you made a difference?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many people also remember someone who discouraged them or put them down.   If you have any thing that you would not want to be remembered for, perhaps now is a good time to temper that part of your personality.

In summary, legacy planning involves both the technical, as in having legal documents drafted by an attorney, and the subjective, or personal in terms of how you want to be remembered. Take the time to plan your life and your legacy, regardless of how old you are, because, whether you plan it or not, you will leave a legacy.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.  It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

― Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451

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