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Meaning over Money – the Gift of Legacy

Meaning over Money – the Gift of Legacy

Grownups has written, before, about the consequences of being an over-zealous older saver. We’re talking about the person who has saved adequately for their retirement but who continues to work (even when they don’t enjoy it) in order to put more dollars in the bank. Or someone who skimps and scrapes to an excessive degree instead of enjoying their retirement savings in a responsible way.

One of the reasons retirees may be over-zealous savers, is they wish to leave a ‘legacy’ to their family. In this instance, they’re using ‘legacy’ in its most commonly understood way, but also in its most narrow definition. ‘Legacy’ is most often taken to mean ‘an amount of money or property’ passed on to another via a will. In fact, ‘legacy’ is so much more, and we dishonour the term if we think otherwise.

‘Legacy’ is not only about dollars and cents; it’s about the positive values we have instilled in our family – values of honesty, respect, kindness, compassion, self-discipline, adventure, and leadership. If we have any doubt about this, we have only to read a court news summary where a judge comments on the negative impacts a ‘legacy of violence and trauma’ has had on a defendant.

The positive legacy you are leaving behind for your descendants may be quite clear once you take the time to notice them. Your son or daughter may not only be managing a small business, but also making time to volunteer as a Saturday sports coach, or to visit an older member of the family who would otherwise be lonely. You may have noticed your adult children are able to pick themselves up from a difficult situation (a marriage break-up or a period of unemployment, for example), and move onto a better space. You may even be able to notice same resilience in a grandchild who is determined to enjoy a sport even though they are not the ‘best’ player in the team.

Unfortunately, many of us lack confidence when it comes to believing we have left a value-positive legacy for our family. Which is why it can feel the only way to compensate, is to leave behind money or property, even when this means we go without, ourselves. If you’re having trouble identifying the non-material legacy you will leave behind, it can pay to write a list of the things you’d like to be remembered for – perhaps you were kind to neighbours, an animal-lover, a parent who turned up to report nights and school performances. You may have always made time to take the family on holiday, or fishing or hiking trips, taught them crafts, music, or sporting skills, or helped them maintain their first vehicle or home. Perhaps you were simply a reliable income-earner or home-maker. All these seemingly inconsequential acts will have fed into your children’s personalities, and have made them the people you are proud of, today. That is the legacy you are leaving them.

If you are working, or saving, more than is advisable, in order to leave behind finances for your adult family, think again. If you really do feel the need to leave a legacy of material assets, think about limiting it. Or consider making it something more intimate, such as an heirloom (a quilt, a special item of furniture, or piece of china, or jewellery), or a very personal gift such as a family tree, a memoir, an oral history, or a book of family photos.

Those you love, and who truly love you, will be more interested in meaning, than money!