Legacy Planning: Live Today Like You’re Dying!

What is Legacy Planning?

Many people think of legacy planning as a financial strategy that prepares people to pass on their assets to a loved one or next of kin after death. But this is an incomplete view on the matter. Legacy can encompass ‘anything’ that is passed down from one generation to another. It can include a mixture of monetary endowments, gifts, family history, family heirlooms, but also includes numerous intangibles like traditions, teachings, and much more.

Here are some examples of legacies that illustrate how broad this topic is:

  1. Being a constant example of positivity, love, gratitude or other positive attitudes and behaviors.
  2. Important lessons taught to your children or grandchildren, like the importance of education, social responsibility, hard work, etc.
  3. Keeping a journal for family history.
  4. Setting up a scholarship fund with a local university.
  5. Establishing a fund for a cause you are passionate about.
  6. Donating some historic possessions to a museum or art exhibit.
  7. Building a community playground, baseball diamond, or other recreational site.

Embracing Your Mortality

Some people don’t want to think about their legacy because thinking about when they are dead and no longer around is distressing. We would argue that NOT thinking about your mortality will cause you more distress as you approach the end of your days as you will have forgone the opportunity proactively plan for your exit strategy and what you leave behind. Embracing your mortality will lead you to engage in your advance serious illness planning, prepare a “just in case” organizational system, pre-plan your funeral and disposal of your body, and ensure those left behind are adequately looked after financially. By engaging in planning for the inevitable, it will go better for you and those that you leave behind. Surely, the benefits and memories that you leave for those left behind are greater than any negative emotions you might feel by embracing your mortality and doing this proactive planning for the end. 

For additional reading on this topic, check out this blog:

https://planwellguide.com/chapter-5-the-aftermath-that-follows-death-a-tale-of-two-persons/

Legacy is not just about dying, it’s about living intentionally!

At times, it may seem grim to think about your legacy, because you may also consider your mortality. But, legacy isn’t just about death – it’s about living. It is about living intentionally in a way that your life continues beyond your death. Overall, your legacy may be your “why” for living. Moreover, regardless what you do, you may leave behind a legacy, either positive or negative! If you want to increase your chances of leaving behind a positive legacy, that requires intentional planning. At this point it is important to consider beginning to define your legacy and set goals that you can work on during the rest of your life to accomplish your legacy. Remember, legacy planning is about determining a ‘way to live’ so that you are remembered, if not cherished, for generations to come.  

To start building your legacy plan, we suggest you go through a visioning exercise illustrated in Figure 1.

1. Think Ahead

To begin this exercise, consider the answers to the following questions:

To help you think about what legacy you want to leave behind, think about what legacies you have inherited. Do you have examples of something that has been passed down from generations in your family? Think of your parents or grandparent, whether alive or dead, what have they given you that you will treasure for ever? Are there particular things that they have taught you, instilled in you, modelled for you? Are they all positive or are some negative? Or are there family heirlooms, resources or gifts they have left behind for you to treasure? Think about the answers to these questions as you develop your own legacy plan.

There is some scientific research that suggests that the more you connect with what your predecessors have given you, the more likely you will take a long view and be concerned about what you are leaving others.[i]

It might sound odd but try to imagine your own funeral. It’s likely you will see all your friends, family, and others you care about gathered around to celebrate your life. Now ask yourself, what would it be that they all remembered you for? If they were to speak, what would you want them to say about you? We have a blog post titled, Planning Perspectives: Thinking Ahead which goes into more details around the specifics of planning and thinking ahead for the end; however, in this section, we want to have you focus on what you want your loved ones to be saying about you and your life’s contributions?

Priming people with thoughts of death or their own mortality may also motivate people to engage more in legacy planning.[ii] Most people, when prompted to think about their death, are concerned about their impact on other people in the future.

2) Think Critically (Self-Analysis)

Answers to the above questions should help you to develop a vision of the legacy you want to leave behind for others. Before jumping to planning, you should consider the following questions that will help you understand where you are today and why you are where you are (see Figure)

  • If I don’t do anything different and my life continues ‘as is’, what will my legacy be? Will it be impactful? Positive? Negative?
    • [iii] In Charles Dicken’s “Christmas Carol”, Ebenezer Scrooge and in the 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring James Steward as George Bailey, both main characters were blessed divine intervention that allowed them to see what their legacies would be like if life (and deaths) continued as is. Their legacy was very negative with heartache and hardship imposed upon those left behind. However, both characters were then doubly blessed with the opportunity to go back and ‘start over’ to create a more positive, impactful legacy on their families, loved ones, and community. You will not get a chance to start over, so think deeply about whether the current course of your life will enable you to accomplish your legacy goals.

3. Think Reflectively

With the answer to the above question #2 in mind, ask yourself, “How did I get here? Is my behavior producing the best results or the results I wanted? What could I have done differently?

To be effective in charting a new course in life, you need to understand where you’ve come from and how it is you arrived there. We discuss this more in the  ‘Behavior Change Guide’ section of the Guide to Enhancing [DH6] and would refer you to that module if you want more help with this step.

4. Think Strategically

Like George Bailey or Ebenezer Scrooge, pretend you’ve been given a new lease on life and that starting today, you can begin to reshape your legacy, your contribution to loved ones around you and society at large. What would you start doing differently? Our advice is to pick a goal or limited number of goals that are attainable and consistent with what motivated you to make a legacy plan and them come back and revisit this exercise in the months to years to come. We also recommend you read or review the section on “Personal Planning” in the Guide to Enhancing so that you put the right processes in place to ensure what you do each day is contributing to the realization of your goals.

Need More Help?

A lot of people with assets or wealth do feel like they have a personal responsibility to use their wealth to benefit our broader society.[i] If this is something that might apply to you we recommend consulting experts in the legacy planning space, specifically, someone known as a gift planner. These experts can provide extensive information on what strategic charitable gift planning is, why gift giving is so important, and how professional advisors can help. If you are interested in learning more about how to get involved in gift giving, check out this organization: The Canadian Association of Gift Planners

Conclusion

Whether you proactively think ahead and plan ahead or not, you will be leaving a legacy behind. How will people remember you? Will it be impactful? Will it be positive or negative? Leaving a legacy relates to living a legacy. We would encourage you to invest time and energy into planning for a positive legacy for those left behind- your family, your community and society at large. As we have highlighted herein, there are tremendous benefits to you and your loved ones by planning for your legacy.

We hope we have provided the necessary knowledge, tools and resources to help you engage in legacy planning. Remember, to live well, die well, and to be remembered well by those left behind, you need to plan your legacy well!

References

[i] Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni, 2002: A Golden Rule Over Time: Reciprocity in Intergenerational Allocation DecisionsAMJ, 45, 1011–1028,https://doi.org/10.5465/3069327

[ii] Wade-Benzoni, K. A., Tost, L. P., Hernandez, M., & Larrick, R. P. (2012). It’s Only a Matter of Time: Death, Legacies, and Intergenerational Decisions. Psychological Science23(7), 704–709. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612443967

[iii] Wade-Benzoni, K., Sondak, H., & Galinsky, A. (2010). Leaving a Legacy: Intergenerational Allocations of Benefits and Burdens. Business Ethics Quarterly, 20(1), 7-34. doi:10.5840/beq20102013

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To live well, age well, and die well, you need to Plan Well ®