How to Leave a Legacy

You don’t need to be a millionaire to leave a meaningful legacy to your loved ones. Here, how to begin thinking of your legacy, and how to begin building it now, in both monetary and value-based ways

My 3-year-old daughter has just started to understand the concept of memory, and as a result, nearly every third sentence begins with, “Remember?” as she recites a detail about something she and I shared. As she asks if I remember the dark rollercoaster ride we took in December, the ducks that stole our potato chips in April, and the birthday party I threw for her just last week, I can’t help but wonder, “How will she remember me?”

Why think about a legacy now?

My question sounds morbid, but as a mom who lost her own mother, I’m all too aware that life isn’t permanent. Because of my history, I’ve been proactive about my finances. I have life insurance and a will, and I make sure that no matter what the future may bring, my daughter will be provided for.

While finances are an important piece of the legacy puzzle, intangibles are just as important — the memories, experiences, and values. A legacy should include financial and emotional components so that your loved ones can take comfort in both the assets you leave behind and the values you pass down.

Here is a primer on how you can leave a legacy for your loved ones.

Take control of your finances (if you haven’t already)

We all know kids are expensive. Whether you’re expecting your first child or your youngest, managing the budget for a growing family can be tough. According to a recent survey, 53% of millennial parents have less than $5,000 in savings.

It’s tough to save, but don’t stick your head in the sand when it comes to finances. Know what you have, including retirement accounts and investments, and what you owe, including student loans or other debt. Knowledge can help you choose a savings strategy as you figure out what’s going well and what areas may need more attention.

Create a worst-case-scenario plan

If you or your partner were to die unexpectedly, how will you provide for your children?

‘What if’ scenarios may not be pleasant to ponder, but you’ve got to if you want to create a realistic contingency plan to protect and provide for your family.

Life insurance is part of that contingency plan.

The lump sum proceeds from a life insurance policy‘s death benefit can help your loved ones pay for day-to-day expenses, childcare, future education costs and more. The peace of mind you’ll gain from having a policy may be more affordable than you think, especially as you hit your thirties and may be thinking about starting a family or leaving a legacy for future generations.

For example, a 20-year, $500,000 Haven Term policy, issued by MassMutual or its subsidiary C.M. Life, for a healthy 30-year-old woman costs about $15 per month. That’s less than your online TV streaming service or two acai bowls for lunch. A 36-year-old man in excellent health can buy a 20-year, $750,000 term life insurance policy for as little as $30 per month. Your rates will depend on a range of factors including your age and your overall health.

If you’re curious to know how much (or little) your premiums might be, you can get a free life insurance quote online.

Plan for your own future

Of course, you want to give your children everything. One of the smartest ways to provide a long-term financial legacy for them after you’re gone is to put a robust retirement savings strategy in place.

Helping with your children’s education is an admirable goal, but there are no loans for retirement. If you don’t have a financial plan for your future in place, your children may have to provide for you one day. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is freedom from a future financial burden.

Look through your employer’s IRA or 401(k) offerings, if applicable. Consider contributing at least enough to get the full match if one is offered.

You can also set up your own IRA, either traditional (tax-deferred) or Roth (taxed now).

A healthy retirement portfolio provides two benefits: (1) your ability to draw upon the funds in your portfolio for your financial needs in retirement, and (2) if your children are the beneficiaries, the funds in your portfolio will transfer to them if you pass away before using them. Working with a financial planner can help to find the best path for you.

Create a will

Everyone needs a will, but especially parents. Not only can a will designate the guardian you want to take care of your children, but your will also opens up the door to a valuable conversation with your loved ones. When you put your cards on the table, you’ll eliminate confusion and clarify what things have value to you.

The monetary values of the items in your will are irrelevant. When you leave a vinyl record collection, prized guitar, or collection of journals to a child you make clear how much you honor that person and trust him or her with the things you hold most dear.

Build a legacy with charitable gifts

While drafting your will, you may wish to consider charitable causes to whom you may want to bequeath assets. Although you may not have the means for donations now, legacy gifts are appreciated enormously and keep your name alive far beyond your lifetime.

Naming charities in your will can also help family and friends know where to donate in your name to honor you. My mother was the president of the senior center in our town, and before her death, she asked for donations to the center instead of condolence flowers. I love knowing that her memory lives on in a space that was so important to her, and whenever I drive by the building, I feel connected to her in a small way.

If you’re interested in leaving a charitable gift, find out how to donate assets after your death to a charity, educational institution, or nonprofit and have the conversation now with your loved ones. Be clear about your intentions and get them in your will now.

Build a legacy of values

Your legacy isn’t necessarily the money left to others. It’s the lessons you taught, the memories others have of you, and the life you lived.

My mother’s legacy was her commitment to others, her love of adventure, her belief that life should be fun. When the weather is beautiful if I take the day off from work, sign my daughter out of daycare, and take a spur-of-the-moment trip to the beach, I’m living my mother’s legacy. I even tell my daughter how much her Grandma Gail would have loved this day.

I hope these memories take hold in my daughter’s mind. For me, creating this intangible legacy is essential, so I prioritize family time as much as possible.

Start now

I would much rather take the day off and go to the beach than focus on financial to-dos, especially when I fervently hope that a will or a beneficiary for my IRA won’t be necessary for decades. But I know that if I get these things done now, I can truly enjoy my time with my daughter.

A huge consolation in my mom’s death was that all her paperwork was in order. As my family and I coped with our grief and tried to imagine a future without her in it, we were unburdened by financial confusion or in-fighting over “things.”

I want the same for my daughter. I am building my own legacy to ensure that I can give her that same emotional and financial freedom.


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