Leaving a financial legacy

One of my earlier articles touched on living a meaningful life and making a difference with an exhortation to consider the legacy we will leave behind. Well, what exactly do I mean by “legacy”? The American Heritage Dictionary defines “legacy” as “money or property bequeathed to someone by will” or “something handed down from an ancestor or predecessor”. The latter definition is more applicable generally and the lives we lead and notable achievements (or lack of them) will determine how we will be remembered. This article is intended to briefly discuss the issue of legacy and how to leave a lasting financial legacy.

Looking at prominent people of the past, each of us will have our favourite people who have left their indelible marks and lasting legacies. Mahatma Gandhi sought peace and change through passive resistance and was therefore a burning torch for others like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mendela who fought against oppression. In government, President John F Kennedy left a lasting legacy of many achievements that have helped transformed not only the USA but also  the world to be a better place including the establishment of the US Peace Corps and successful handling of the Cuban missile crisis that averted a nuclear war. Elvis Presley can be considered a musical legend with fans still having annual gatherings to remember the man and his music. Similarly idolized is Bruce Lee, who is considered the most influential martial artist in life and on the silver screen.  History remembers not only men of peace but also men of war and Adolf Hitler is one such man and deemed to be responsible for the millions of deaths during the Second World War and the Holocaust.  In helping humanity, we remember Nobel prize recipient Mother Teresa who dedicated her life to helping (especially in India) the poor and down-trodden, the sick, and the dying. Lately, we have also been made aware of billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who have intentionally decided that a substantial part of their wealth will be given to charitable causes to help society at large.

The aforementioned are famous people and their legacies but what of mere mortals like most of us? Rich or poor, famous or insignificant, each of us will leave behind our respective individual legacies. Whilst it may not be possible to plan and live our lives such that history will record the good that we would want to do, we can however take control of the way we would like to write our financial legacy.

Leaving a financial legacy that is lasting and beneficial entails the ability to amass wealth (tangible and non-tangible assets) and structuring a plan that would ensure the wealth continues to grow to benefit those we love (whether individuals or organizations like charitable foundations ) from the legacy. Recognizing this objective, we need to note the adage “easy come easy go” and prevent wealth being squandered and in this respect we would do well to note the Chinese saying regarding wealth not being able to pass beyond three generations.

Generally, a will is the instrument we use to pass down inheritance to our loved ones or charitable organisations. The high net worth may set up a trust to effect the legacy they may wish to leave behind. Writing a will or setting up a trust will not be discussed in this article (maybe in a future article) but one can always consult a lawyer or financial advisor if help is needed.

In summary, the important thing to remember is that we leave behind sufficient funds and tangible assets in a structured plan that will continue to grow to benefit those intended in leaving a lasting financial legacy. Perhaps the focus on financial legacy may not be as important as being able to leave a legacy of having spent our time wisely and making a difference in the lives of others. Billy Graham, the well-known and respected evangelist, sums it all when he was quoted as saying “The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives.”

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