At its core, legacy planning is about life and death, family and community, and love and values. It requires us to consider our own demise, a subject many of us don’t exactly want to keep top of mind.

When you think about your legacy, there can be a lot to consider. What does it even mean to leave behind a legacy? And how can the estate planning decisions you make today impact the legacy you leave when you’re gone? Let’s start with something that might seem simple on the surface but may not actually be so cut and dry once we dig a little deeper.

What Is Your Legacy?

In its most basic form, estate planning is about what you leave behind. In American culture, we tend to focus on the money we leave behind. But the truth is that our legacy extends far beyond our money. It includes the history of our relationships with those that matter most to us. It includes the memory of our values and what we demonstrated mattered most to us. It includes how we supported those we loved in their own journey. It includes our acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion. It is about an emotional legacy, whether it be one of strife and angst, or love and forgiveness. It is how we role model for our children, and maybe grandchildren, a life well lived and how to finish life well.

If you buy into this expanded definition of estate planning, then legacy planning is more about what you do during your life than the money you leave behind. It is about your efforts to build, and sometimes repair, your relationships with your spouse, children, grandchildren, and extended family. It is about your willingness to mentor others as you pass on your wisdom that comes from your own life struggles and experience. It is about being supportive of others in their own journey and recognizing that everyone has the right to forge their own path. It is about expressing your values through generosity, giving not only money but also investing your time, talents, and wisdom for causes you care about. It is about showing your children how life can be both meaningful and joyful, even as we struggle and experience the inevitable losses that come with age.

Your legacy is about more than money, but from an estate planning standpoint, money is such a big part of what we leave behind. For that reason, you can use one of two strategies when it comes to estate planning: personal or tactical.

Personal Estate Planning

When you take a personal strategy to estate planning, you’re looking at estate planning decisions through the prism of how they will personally affect your children and/or beneficiaries. This type of planning often raises difficult questions such as:

  • How do I want to be remembered?
  • What do I believe is a life well lived?
  • How do I imagine my children spending the money I give them?
  • How might the money I leave my children empower them to follow their heart and pursue their dreams?
  • Will the money I leave my children deprive them of the chance to build their own strength and resilience?
  • How much of who I am today came from starting with nothing and having to work for everything I have? Do I want my children and grandchildren to have a similar opportunity?
  • How much money do my kids really need?
  • Why do I want to leave my children a financial legacy when I die?
  • Do I want to leave a portion of my estate to select charities?

These questions are personal and often difficult. They take time to process—time you might prefer spending another way. They require you to be honest and vulnerable with yourself, your spouse or significant other, and your planning team. This level of intimacy makes many people uncomfortable, which is part of the challenge and the burden of having money.

Tactical Estate Planning

You can also choose to not think about these questions. The estate planning industry has figured out how to avoid them by shifting these decisions from personal to tactical, enabling you to simply focus on limiting your tax burden. After all, paying less tax is something everybody can get behind. The planning strategies to reduce them are not personal, and the benefit is easy to measure. In this scenario, you would have a different set of questions to ask yourself, including:

So, why do the hard work of wrestling with personal questions if you feel that you can accomplish your estate planning goals with the tactical ones? It’s a personal decision you’ll need to make based on what you know today about yourself, your situation, your children, your grandchildren, and your charitable desires.

Where Do We Go from Here?

If you want to think through these questions (or similar ones), we are here to help you consider the legacy, both financial and non-financial, you want to leave behind. Our specialists can help you build your living legacy as you consider how you want to live your life going forward. Not only can we assist you as you define your desired outcome, but we can also help you modify your investment and financial plan to support the changes you may want to make.

If you don’t want to delve deeper into these issues right now, we can still help you manage your gift, estate, and income taxes and help you update your estate plan in the manner that is helpful for you.

David Geller

David Geller

Director, Behavioral Wealth Management

CFP® David joined Wealth Enhancement Group through the partnership with JOYN Advisors, where he acted as CEO and Co-Founder. He is the creator of the Behavioral Wealth Management™ model. A model that focuses on aligning wealth management with the integration of human emotions while taking into consideration an individual’s talents, wisdom, network and relationships. David has been featured in a number of prominent outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The...Read More