At some point in everyone’s life – usually when we begin to see ourselves as senior citizens, but sometimes earlier–our thoughts naturally turn to what it is we want to leave behind when we die.
Why We’re Compelled to Leave a Legacy
Some would say it’s because we don’t want to be forgotten; or we want our lives to have a lasting impact. It’s deeper than that; legacy is an essential part of the human cultural experience, what Jim Rohn– in “5 Undeniable Reasons to Leave a Legacy”– calls the ‘ongoing foundation of life’. Legacy has always played a part in our shared genetic, cultural and social inheritance. According to him, each of us carries the responsibility to leave a legacy “that will take the next generation to a level we could only imagine.” That’s a tall order.
Still, there’s a personal benefit to leaving a well-planned legacy. it breaks our habit of self-centered thinking. In doing so, he says, “we are acting with a selflessness that can only be beneficial for everyone”– including ourselves.
Begin with Two Fundamental Questions
Since your legacy should be as unique– as one-of-a-kind as you are – legacy planning involves really getting to know who you are, what you own, and what people or organizations you value most. That means asking yourself (and answering!) these two questions:
1. How do I want to be remembered?
Use your imagination to picture your funeral. What do you think people will be saying about you? Is it what you want them to think? Much of your legacy will be in the memories held by those you’ve ‘touched’ during your lifetime; just what will they remember? Every day, whenever you’re taking action in your life, ask yourself, “How does this action affect my overall goals?” Another excellent question to ask would be “How will this affect people in the years to come?” Because, at its heart, everything you do every day is part of your legacy.
2. What assets –real estate, personal property, cash – do I want to leave to my family and friends, community; the planet?
You’ve got belongings (some of intrinsic value, some only sentimental) which will need distribution after your passing. Where, or to whom, should these things go? Begin by writing down a list of all those people you care about; then make a list of everything you own. Match property to person–and write it all down for later reference.
Both of the questions above are tough, requiring some deep thinking–and maybe even some advice from an attorney, financial advisor, or estate planner.
Let’s look at some inspiring ways you can make a difference in the lives of people you’ve known personally, as well as future generations.
Ways to Live – and Leave – a Lasting Legacy
We all want to be remembered fondly after we’re gone; we’d like people to smile when they think of us.
Even if you have nothing tangible to give, the actions you’ve taken during your lifetime can serve as your legacy.
Here are five suggestions from wellness expert Joan Moran (source):
Work to support the people and causes that matter most to you.
Become a mentor.
Share your blessings with others.
Pursue your passions; inspire others by living with gusto.
Practice kindness and treat everyone with understanding and compassion.
Gift Personal Possessions to Special People: You’ve accumulated lots of ‘stuff’ over the years. Maybe you’ve created or collected lots of art work. Whatever objects you most value, make plans to give them away after your death.
Write a Legacy Letter. Think about everything you’d want to tell your loved ones and your survivors if you knew you didn’t have long to live then put it all in a letter to them. It’s a way to speak directly to your loved ones and say all those things you wish you had told them earlier.
Prepare an ethical will. This is the logical extension of a legacy letter. With an origin going back to centuries of elders orally conveying their values to the next generation, an ethical will lets you share the meaning of your life, beliefs and life lessons.
Trace and deepen your family history. Use specialized genealogy websites, like Ancestry.com and Archives.gov, then add your personal story to the existing genealogy record. Do this by recording more than mere facts: include anecdotes and feelings.
Obtain a personal genetic report. Using genetech services like 23 and Me or AncenstryDNA.com to discover your genetic heritage. Again, it’s a legacy no one else can provide.
Create a Living Gift Plan: Create a monetary gifting plan so your kids and grandkids will receive money while you’re alive, allowing you to watch them benefit from your generosity. (Be sure to consult with your tax advisor and attorney first.)
Create a Charitable Foundation or Trust. Wealthier people can create a charitable foundation or a trust that provides ongoing distributions, so the gift has more lasting value. You’ll want to make sure you have properly-drawn documents to dispose of your assets. If you don’t have a will, create one (with the help of a qualified attorney).
Leave a Lump Sum to a Spiritual Institution or Charity. You might also work with a charity or college to design an annuity in which the institution is designated as the beneficiary when you die but pays you interest during your lifetime. You’ll get a tax credit for some of the donation, too. Be sure to check with your tax and financial advisers for the most appropriate ways to accomplish your charitable goals.
3 Things You Can Do After Death to Benefit Future Generations
Ensuring the lives of those you love are enriched in some way after your death can just be a part of your legacy. If you’re planning on being cremated, you can leave the planet a better place using your cremated remains.
Become a Tree. There are companies like Bios Urn for example, who produce biodegradable urns specifically designed so that a tree seedling can be planted outdoors and utilize the nutrients of your cremated remains to grow a tree. Other similar options exist; like Bonsai Urn, a product which allows you to create a portable legacy tree.
Become a Protective Coral Reef. If you have a special love for the sea, you may want to look into Eternal Reefs, a company which will take your cremated remains and prepare them to become–over time–home to thousands of sea creatures.
Leaving a legacy is an important part of your life’s work. And here’s the crux of it: a legacy develops from a life dedicated to self-reflection and purpose. What will be revealed by your choices, and what will endure, is entirely up to you.
Remember that building a legacy isn’t a discrete task with a beginning and an end. In truth, it takes a lifetime to construct a lasting legacy.