22 June 2014

How to leave a great legacy

The need for the world to know that we were here is a universal desire.

Eventually, the time will come when we need to consider what mark we want to leave behind. Ideally, it will be something which will make the world a better place. While it may be bordering on morbid, pondering our legacy is something necessary for everyone to do at some stage. After all, there’s nothing as certain as death and taxes.  

For actors, artists, authors and politicians, it must be very reassuring to know there is a page reserved for you in the history book, but for the rest of us, our legacy may be more of the DIY nature.

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to bequeath possessions to assist the next generation, but it’s also great to leave something more valuable and everlasting. Ask any mature person what their greatest possession is, and they will rarely point to a wad of cash. It often represents something intangible yet invaluable. A well earned medal which is part of the family history. A set of values which are unmistakably you. The principles we pass on to our children.

The need to be remembered is a way to be in the room, even when you’re no longer there.

Cultivating a positive legacy takes a lot of forethought. What is the greatest gift you can bestow on the next generation, and maybe even generations after?

Certainly, an obvious way of leaving a legacy is of course to bequest an inheritance in your last will and testament. The very act of divvying up your property, possessions, money and investments will often prove very thought provoking. Although money in itself is not ‘special’, the recipient will always be appreciative. Money can buy security, freedom and opportunity, all of which rank high on life’s list of desirables.

Late last year HSBC’s Future of Retirement Report surveyed 16,000 people across 15 countries to find out how much money they expected to leave their children.

Australia topped the poll with an average of $578,673* to leave to their children. The average across the 15 countries was $170,868.  Singapore came in second with $427,695 and the United States lagged in sixth place with $203,852.

The larger Australian bequests may be a result of us coming out of the GFC relatively unscathed, in comparison to other economies, plus a buoyant property market and consistently strong Australian dollar.

There’s no need to delay bequests, necessarily. A gifting plan may be established so your children or grandchildren receive money while you are alive, so you can see them enjoy it. Often a gifting plan has conditions attached, for example, money may only be spent on investments or items which will appreciate in value.

Leaving a valuable legacy, however, does not require a bank account to rival Bill Gates. A non-monetary legacy may be a simple letter or letters to your loved ones. With people delaying having children until later in life, it stands to reason that grandchildren may not get as many years to know their grandparents as they have in past generations.

A hand written letter or video message to a grandchild gives them a tangible and memorable link to their grandparents - a first hand communication with grandparents they may possibly have never met.

Giving to a charity which represents your values or personal causes is also a positive measure.  With more significant funds, a charitable foundation or scholarship may be established in your memory. Trusts and scholarships, at your old school for example, will generally take on a life of their own and be ongoing for several years.

One of the most precious legacies you can leave your loved ones is memories, by spending time with them and developing your own traditions which they can take with them into the future.

How will you cultivate a positive legacy and put your stamp on the future? It’s a question worth asking. Now is an opportunity to reconcile and make sense of your existence and form the means by which the world will remember you. “Dear world, I was here. Here’s my contribution, here’s how I hope my life mattered.”