By Janice A. ThompsonThe rocks in my sister-in-law’s garden tell a story. On each rock you can see the perfectly etched imprint of the foliage that once surrounded them. They tell of another time when the plants were alive and thriving. Just as these rocks tell a unique story now a part of history, we are doing much the same. We, too, are making a lasting impression — intentional or not — on those following in our footsteps.
Working with families over the past decade in the area of legacy planning has taught me a few things. For instance, I have found people typically think of their legacy only in terms of the financial assets they will leave behind. Legacy planning, however, is so much more. Non-financial legacies, while more challenging to define and more effort to create, are far more impactful. Multiple studies tell us family values trump financial resources because wealth without the wisdom that created it is often squandered.
A lasting legacy encompasses a lifetime of relationships, accomplishments, truths, traditions, and values that live on in those whose lives we touch. It becomes a part of the ongoing foundation of life we hand off to the next generation. We steward the world we come into and those after us inherit what we leave behind. This cycle of life has the raw power for good or bad depending on what we do with it and how we prepare the next generation to receive it.
Changing What You Inherited
If you inherited a less than ideal foundation upon which to build, you have the power to alter the course of your family story. I watched my parents do this. Mom and Dad both grew up in a children’s home after each of them lost a parent at a very tender age. While growing up with 180 other children, their basic physical needs were met, but they missed an intimate family life. They grew up together and eventually married shortly after Dad’s military service. While they were grateful for what they had been given, they determined to create what they had missed — a loving home and family life. They are the first to admit they were clueless about exactly how to do that, but that was never an excuse for them. In their mid-nineties now, they are enjoying the fruit of that dogged determination to change the course of their family story, as each successive generation inherits the gift of family values so important to them. They created a legacy with a lasting imprint much like those rocks!
I have given a lot of thought over the years to what contributed to their successful legacy. Here are three themes that altered the course of our family story:
Meaningful — They identified the missing values important to them and built a family environment that filled in the gaps. Because they missed the nurturing, loving, and stable home environment they both longed for, those values became our family’s foundation. Each of us four children were treated not just equally, but uniquely.
Intentional — They were very purposeful in their approach to family life. They studied families they admired, read books, and looked for ways to ensure we were given opportunities to grow. They were not perfect, of course, but were quick to admit when they were wrong and modeled the values my husband and I hold dear today.
Transformational — They wanted something different for their family, and they are now enjoying the fruit of their efforts as the fourth generation of their thriving legacy is living out the values they worked so diligently to create. They Tcertainly made a lasting imprint on our generation, and we have worked hard to ensure our children and grandchildren value the gift we were blessed to receive — values my husband and I live by today.
Five Areas of a Proactive Family Legacy
If you are now thinking proactively about your own family legacy, here are five areas to consider:
Your Personal Legacy explores your unique life purpose. Everyone is born with skills, gifts, talents, and experiences that can be leveraged to create meaning and purpose while positively impacting the lives of others.
Your Family Legacy focuses on proactively transferring the wisdom and values you’ve developed to the next generation. Your family’s story is unlike any other and can be captured through your family vision, mission, and core values.
Your Financial Legacy maps out wise choices that help you gain confidence with financial decisions. This is probably the easiest to quantify but, if done while neglecting your Personal and Family Legacies, you can potentially transfer damaging rather than positive lasting results.
Your Business Legacy considers more than just the technical and legal aspects of business transfer, such as continuity, exit, and succession planning. It starts with plans to help ensure the business doesn’t ruin the family and the family doesn’t destroy the business. Preparing and mentoring the next generation is essential to a successful business transfer.
Your Charitable Legacy explores ways to use your leadership, influence, and financial margin to make life better for others. For those who share my faith-based values, this area of planning is an especially meaningful way to create something that will outlive you and last for eternity.
Do you have clarity around each area of legacy planning? Many families sail through life without giving careful consideration to these areas of lasting impact. Even with help from competent advisors, many families end up with results that may not reflect their values or unique calling and, by the time they discover it, it may be too late to do anything about it. Let me encourage you to strive for clarity about your life and the legacy that will transfer your wisdom and values to the generations you care so deeply about. This is not just about wealth on a balance sheet — this is about the balance sheet of your life!
If you are now motivated to create a positive imprint on future generations, start with these considerations:
What have I been blessed with in the way of talent, resources, and heritage that is important in my unique story? This will keep you focused on what really matters. When you think beyond today, actions are more likely to be values-based rather than merely what’s expedient.
Why does it matter? You accept tremendous responsibility when you choose to leave a positive legacy. The reward is incalculable as you realize the next generation may take what you have given to a level you can only imagine.
How can I ensure what I value is preserved for generations to come? When you make decisions based upon conscious acts that prepare the next generation, you experience exponential value that far exceeds your investment of time and resources.
There are two kinds of legacies — the one you inherited and the one you will leave behind. While you have little control over the former, you have a great deal of influence over the latter. If you purposefully define your values and, intentionally and authentically live them out, you are more likely to have prepared heirs. Start with your why (purpose, passion, gifts, and values) before engaging the how (tools, techniques, and strategies) so your family has a values-based context for your legacy. Remember, proactive planning is not just about your balance sheet — it’s your life, your family, and your values that matter!
We have the powerful ability every day to leave a lasting imprint on those we touch. So, if these rocks were to tell your story, what would they say?
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Janice A. Thompson, CFP, is the co-founder and CEO of One Degree Advisors, Inc., a wealth management firm that provides Comprehensive Financial Planning, Asset Management, and Life Stewardship Advising services. Janice’s interest in all things financial goes back to her earliest childhood memory. After years of teaching financial basics, she began to focus on a professional career in the industry in 1993. During the next decade, she earned a Master’s Degree in Financial Services, the Certified Financial Planner™ designation, and launched Strategic Financial Solutions, Inc. In 2014, she merged her practice with another firm and together they formed One Degree Advisors, Inc. Janice is passionate about assisting financially blessed families with holistic life coaching and wealth transfer planning, working with corporations and business owners, and addressing the unique needs of women going through transitions. She enjoys speaking, writing, and mentoring others. She serves on the national Board of Directors for Kingdom Advisors. Janice and her husband, Tom, live in San Diego, California where they enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren. Read Janice’s financial columns on Medium. Connect with her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit onedegreeadvisors.com.
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