My father, Craig, passed away two years ago. He worked his whole career at a job he enjoyed. As a family of 11 (Mom, Dad, 5 boys and 4 girls) we never had a lot of extras, but our needs were met. Fortunately, my dad had a generous pension and government health benefits throughout retirement, which not only provided for my parent’s living expenses, but the extensive medical care my dad required.
But there’s really no “nest egg” for his children to inherit. The pension will stop after my mother is gone, as will the health benefits. There isn’t a lot left as far as other assets are concerned.
And that doesn’t matter at all.
In the later stages of one’s financial life, our minds often go to ensuring and defining our financial legacy. This could generally be called estate planning, and it includes many questions such as:
What should happen to my assets when I die?
Will they go to my children? To a charitable or other non-profit organization? How should they be divided?
Will I donate my wealth? How can this be done in a tax-efficient manner?
Should a trust be created to ensure proper protections?
But can we talk about a different kind of legacy for a minute? Over the past month I took some time to reach out to my siblings to ask: What was Dad’s legacy?
A Life of Service
I’ll never forget when Dad gave his car to a group of immigrant workers in desperate need of transportation to and from work. The car wasn’t anything great, but he knew they needed it more than he did. He helped start an English as a Second Language (ESL) class for this same group of men, which turned into an incredibly beneficial service in our growing community, enlisting both volunteers and students.
When I asked my oldest brother, Jon, what he considered Dad’s legacy to be, many of the attributes he listed came back to serving others:
Consistent church service
A love of people
Putting family first
The Scoutmaster (yes, my Dad was an incredible Scoutmaster!)
The Dead Sea Never Gives
Two of my sisters struck on a very similar theme of always giving, rarely taking. Here’s an experience shared by my younger sister:
“I was picking some blackberries in our yard and decided to take some to a friend. Turns out, she was having a really tough week and blackberries were her very favorite thing. And then came the thought, ‘Thanks Dad.’ I was grateful that I had something homegrown to share. He gave me those [blackberry] starts, carefully potted in soil with step by step instructions on how to optimally plant the new tenderlings. He shared with me so I could share with others.”
My older sister’s experience carried a similar tone:
“One spring day when [Dad] and I were working in his garden, he said, ‘You know, Mom asks why I think our garden does so well.’ I thought he would reply that it’s because he works in it so much, but the reply spoke volumes about Dad, ‘I think our garden does so well because we give so much of it away.’”
My younger sister went on:
“I remember hearing an analogy once comparing service to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is dead because it has no rivers leading out, only in. It shares its life-giving water to no one, and because of it the salt content of the sea becomes so high that no life can survive in or around it.”
Your Legacy is More Than Finances
As you consider the legacy you’d like to leave, your finances should certainly be part of that. How, when, and to where you dispose of your assets is an important decision and can do an immense amount of good.
I’d encourage you to also consider your non-financial legacy. It usually doesn’t come on as suddenly as, say, a large donation made to a charity. It’s rather built over years and years of slowly and steadily building a life of meaning and purpose.
My dad was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school. While he did succeed professionally, his legacy of service and love far exceeds any professional or financial legacy he could have left. It’s worth considering how you might do the same.