How to leave a legacy that means something

Want to leave your mark on the world or at the very least on your family and friends? Here are 9 ways to ensure your mission and values - rather than your assets -are remembered long after you’re gone.

By Sabrina Rogers-Anderson

Our lifetimes are filled with inexplicable joy, heart-wrenching grief, triumphs that fill us with pride and lessons we learn the hard way. 

As we age and watch future generations of our family come to life, it’s natural to want to pass on our hard-earned wisdom and values. Even if you don't have kids, inspiring your friends and people around you is important.

“I turned 75 and it hit me,” says mother-of-three and grandmother-of-five Janice. “I had to connect with my kids and grandkids on a deeper level before it was too late.”

But how can we make our mark without telling drawn-out tales of our glory days that cause our progeny to furiously roll their eyes?

Here are 9 ways to leave a powerful legacy.

Spend quality time with your family

Whether you live on the same street or across the world from your kids and grandkids, make the time you spend together count.

You don’t need to splash out on expensive outings or epic holidays - it’s the small, everyday moments your family will remember most. 

Teach your children how to make your famous pavlova or plant flowers and vegetables in your garden with your grandkids. If you live far away, have regular video calls during which you chat and play games together.

Those simple moments are the perfect time to get to know your kin on a deeper level and let them get to know you. They’re also a great opportunity to pass on your core values.

Don’t be afraid to share your vulnerabilities and past failures. By explaining how you overcame hardships, you’ll teach them far more valuable lessons than if you focus solely on your successes.

Continue pursuing your passions

Living your life to the fullest - within your personal capabilities and limitations - is one of the best ways to inspire future generations by showing them that getting older doesn’t mean life is over.

After suffering a life-altering stroke that left her paralysed, my mother went from being an active 73-year-old who walked her dog every day to living in a wheelchair. 

After processing her grief about everything she’d lost, my inspiring mum has filled her new life in an aged care home with activities she loves.

She devours books, listens to podcasts, watches documentaries and dramas, learns Italian online and does the New York Times puzzles every day. She also does a series of daily exercises and walks around her apartment with a cane to maintain as much mobility as possible.

Her only complaint? “There are never enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do!” 

Lead by example

Hope your grandkids will grow up to be kind and caring people who give back to the community? Show them how it's done by volunteering for a cause that’s close to your heart.

You could make jams and sell them for a breast cancer charity or knit bonnets to donate to a local hospital for premmie babies.

You can also demonstrate kindness and compassion in your everyday interactions with other people.

Simple things like avoiding judging or speaking ill of others can go a long way towards teaching your mini-mini-mes how to treat people with respect.

Create a family tree

As your children and grandchildren get older, they may develop an interest in their family history. You can help them understand their ancestry by creating a family tree.

It can be as simple as a hand-sketched diagram going back as many generations as possible or you can use family tree templates on websites such as Canva

There are also paid websites such as Ancestry that connect you with possible ancestors and family members. You may even choose to do a DNA test to be matched with DNA relatives.

Your grandkids are likely to have fun drawing the tree with you today, but it won’t be until they’re older and want to know where they come from that they’ll be truly grateful for your efforts.

Document your ancestors’ history

Keen to dig even further into your family history? You can create a detailed account of your ancestors’ life stories by asking relatives, looking through old photo albums and letters, and searching the national archives.

The National Library of Australia offers some helpful tips on researching your family history. You may want to compile your findings in a scrapbook or an online family history book you can print out. 

Record your life story

If digging up your great-great-grandfather Alfred’s life story feels like too much work, you can simply record your own for future generations to enjoy and pass down. 

There are online services that capture your life story in book, audio and video format depending on your preference and budget. 

Invest in your grandkids’ education

With a bachelor’s degree costing between $20,000 and $45,000 in Australia, your grandchildren could be paying off their student debts for years after they graduate.

To give them a leg up, you could open a high-interest savings account and deposit a small amount in there each month. Better yet, education bonds have a higher rate of return and are more tax-effective.

Set up a trust

You don’t have to be a Murdoch to set up a trust fund. If you want to ensure your children and grandchildren get some of your assets no matter what the state of your estate is when you die, a trust can be a good choice (though check with your lawyer or accountant to get advice specific to your needs).

Any assets you assign to the trust - which can include cash, stocks, bonds, real estate and valuable possessions - are owned by the beneficiaries you name in the trust deed. Those assets can’t be claimed by creditors in the case of bankruptcy or family members who try to get a piece of the estate in court.

Leave a gift to charity in your Will

Donating to a charity that’s meaningful to your family is a beautiful way to help others. You might wish to donate to a bowel cancer charity to honour a loved one you lost to the disease or help an animal shelter if you’re a family of dog lovers.

You can choose to leave a set amount of money, a specific gift such as property or shares, or the remainder of your estate after taking care of your loved ones.

Make your mark

If you want to leave a financial legacy, you should get professional advice from a financial advisor or a solicitor.

But when it comes to passing on your wisdom and values, be authentic and follow your gut.

“I’ve recently started telling my kids stories about my past that I never thought I’d share,” says Janice. “I figure they’re old enough now. They deserve to know who their mum really is. And I think they’re quite tickled by some of my saucier stories!”

Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.

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