Consider your values, your dreams and goals for your family’s future, and the causes and concerns that generate passion and energy for you: “It’s not just about growing the money. It’s about how you want to use the money beyond just your family and how you want your family to understand you.”
• Where did you come from and how did you get to where you are?
• What will be important for your family to know about you in the future?
• What will your legacy be?
What is a personal legacy statement? It varies from individual to individual. In general, it is a document that is not legally binding, but that provides you with the opportunity to tell your own personal story to the beneficiaries of the estate. For some, the legacy statement can focus on a history of family business, including the goals and principles upon which it was founded and the ideas upon which the business was managed. It is especially helpful for the beneficiaries during business succession to have such firsthand knowledge of the founder’s hopes and dreams for the company and of the whys and how’s of the founder’s major business decisions.
For others, the personal legacy statement is an ethical will. Again, it is not a legally binding document, but is one that tells your personal story, including dreams, goals, successes and failures. The ethical will explains to those for whom it is written, what has been important and why. It may even try to speculate on such questions as, “If I had it to do all over again, would I have made the same choices?” Many choose to include hopes and dreams for future generations, not to indicate what their choices should be, but rather the moral and ethical principles that one hopes one’s heirs will follow.
Some examples: An elderly grandfather, whose parents began a family business, tells his grandson about the history of the business, which actually began in Europe before his parents came to the United States. It is not clear at this point that the grandson will take over the family business, but the personal legacy statement gives the grandfather and the grandson some unique opportunities. The grandfather has the opportunity to tell his grandson about his business philosophy, about the rationale for the major decisions he made to grow the business from where it was when he took it over from his parents, and about the directions he anticipates for the future of the business. The grandfather can also talk personally to his grandson about the mistakes he made along the way and about the values that are important to him.
For the grandson, who has not yet made up his mind, there is a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the legacy of the business and the value of what may be passed on to him. The asset becomes much more multidimensional because it has been so enriched and enhanced by his grandfather’s story. The grandson understands the legacy of the business as part of his family’s identity.
A second example demonstrates a purely personal statement. A mother and a father write a personal statement to each of their children about themselves, about their history, and about how unique and special each of their children is to them. It is an opportunity to tell their children what they hoped to have accomplished during their lifetime, what was important and what was not so important, and what they hope their children will take from their personal story. This kind of statement also offers the possibility for a family to heal old wounds and resolve old conflicts. Without some attempt to repair relationships, it is extraordinarily difficult for heirs to work through old, bitter, unresolved family relationships with parents and grandparents after these important people have died.
There are many other ways for you to use the personal legacy statement. It can be a work in progress moving forward (e.g., a newlywed couple put their dreams for their marriage and their vows to each other on paper, or a couple write to a child upon the child’s birth). It can be a gift to a newborn child (e.g., the story of his namesake). It can be a document of remembrance to a young child from a parent whose life will be tragically shortened. One common thread in all of these examples is that the document created is a very personal statement about issues that are deeply meaningful to the author.
Our need to find meaning in our lives is as old as the human race. We look for more in life than just our routines, our material assets and our work. Certainly we are first and foremost interested in preserving the wealth we have earned and are interested in providing our families with the benefits of those assets, but we have learned that we are usually interested in more!
Haitham “Hutch” E. Ashoo and Christopher G. Snyder are the principals of Pillar Financial Services, a wealth management firm in Walnut Creek. Contact them at 925-356-6780 or at www.PillarOnline.com