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Leaving a Legacy

6/27/2012, 1:38 p.m.

When we initiate estate planning, most of the focus is on the financial aspect of your legacy. Your will, trusts, and other bequests usually focus on who gets what, how much of it they get, and what they're allowed to do with it.

While money is an important part of estate planning - is, in fact, the primary reason for undertaking it in the first place - there's also another facet to consider. It has less to do with where your money goes and more to do with how you want to be remembered for decades to come.

What is a Legacy?

From a legal and financial standpoint, a legacy is any gift of personal property that gets passed along after your death. However, most of us also view a legacy as a gift of less material means. A legacy can be personal treasures that you place high in value but which have no actual monetary value. A legacy can be the message you leave regarding how you want your children to be raised, the plan you lay out for yourself in the event of a loss of mental faculty (as in a living will), or even the way in which you want your remains to be taken care of. In short, a legacy is the way you want your life - and the fruits of your labor - to be remembered.

Leaving a Financial Legacy

In many ways, a legacy can be both financial and emotional. For example, suppose you've amassed quite a fortune, but you don't want all of it to go to your children or grandchildren. You can choose a charity to be the recipient of your wealth or give it all to your church. You can start your own scholarship program. You might even leave it to a loved one in a trust - provided they act in accordance with a set of values and stipulations you set out in advance.

In order to honor your values during the estate planning process, it's important to work with an estate planner who embraces the emotional aspect of your legacy. Incorporating your family in the process should be a welcomed idea, since many of your decisions ultimately affect them. You should also be able to get as creative or as traditional as you wish to be. After all, estate planning is no longer tied to the legal process in the way it was in years past. You have more freedom in your choices, allowing you to leave a message to your loved ones that you may have been unable to put into words during your lifetime.

No matter how much distance you place between yourself and your finances, estate planning and leaving a legacy are one and the same thing. Long after the money is spent, your family members or the beneficiaries of your estate are likely to remember the loving ways in which you shared who you are and what you did during your lifetime. That's what leaving a legacy is really all about.

Questions? Email me at wesley@thewandwgroup.com and visit our website at www.thewandwgroup.com. New Money Talk is a weekly article focusing on retirement, personal finance, and estate planning.

Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of email, personal responses are not always possible.