By Laura A. Roser, excerpted from Laura’s new book, Your Meaning Legacy: How to Cultivate & Pass On Non-Financial Assets — Available on April 23, 2018.
What Matters to You?
Estate planning traditionally focuses on your financial assets. But there’s more to you than your physical wealth. What about your wisdom, beliefs, values, important family traditions, and stories? What about passing on crucial knowledge about your business, money management, or other skills?
Oftentimes, people don’t think about the intangibles they should pass on to their heirs. Because estate planning is so wrapped up in transferring financial assets, figuring out how to pass on your real estate, investments, and collectables becomes the goal. Once your financial team hands you your estate plan, you think you’ve got all your bases covered: You’ve got life insurance, a trust to avoid probate, an appointed executor, and so on.
Financial structuring, however, is only a piece of the puzzle. Your legacy extends far beyond the material possessions you have managed to accumulate.
Is There More?
I first started thinking about my legacy several years ago after a meeting with a financial advisor who initially hooked me with the sentence, “We have a process to help you pass on wisdom and principles to your kids.” He then placed a sheet of paper in front of me that instructed me to list my values.
“Is there more?” I asked, holding up the paper. “I thought you said you had a process to pass on wisdom.”
Instead of delving deeper into what I’d hoped would be a discussion about passing on meaningful knowledge to my loved ones, he began to pitch a whole life insurance policy that could be set up to align with my values. This is not what I wanted to hear.
My experience isn’t unique. The financial planning industry realized decades ago that they could sell more products and services by appealing to people’s desire to leave a legacy. While the products are useful and important, the sales pitch is fundamentally a bait and switch. The more you develop your relationship with your legacy team, the time spent talking about non-financial assets will continue to diminish until it doesn’t exist, except as a conduit to sell financial products. There are exceptions, of course, but not many.
Although I didn’t act immediately, this experience planted a seed. At the time, I was running a marketing company and a real estate investment firm and hadn’t prioritized my legacy. But things evolved. I experienced the highs and lows of the real estate market, the ups and downs of marriage, financial successes, and colossal personal and financial disaster.
By the time I reached the age of 31, I had gone from nothing to making millions, been in intense legal battles, lost all my financial assets, and discovered some significant blind spots in my marriage. I was left with debt, a group of wonderfully supportive friends and family, and a bed with a 600-thread-count duvet cover from my previous life. Everything else was gone: no more big house on the hill, no more sleek BMW, no more 5-star vacations, no more Amex card, no more husband.
At this point, I began thinking deeply about what my life represented, along with the thought of writing a memoir. I’d experienced extreme success and extreme failure. But what was all my striving for? This existential crisis prompted me to delve into a comprehensive examination of legacy. After years of focusing on building up financial assets that had all disappeared in a period of two years—along with my marriage and the dreams my husband and I had shared—I began to consider what was truly important to me. Then, a stifling realization hit me: If my plans hadn’t been derailed, I very well may have spent my whole life focusing on acquiring more stuff, living to please others, using work as an excuse to avoid introspection—all with little fulfillment for myself.
Thankfully, life had other plans. I rediscovered what I intrinsically knew all those years ago when I sat in front of that whole life insurance salesman. Focusing only on financial assets and pretending that a simple sheet of swell values somehow gives life meaning is silly. That’s not a legacy I’d be proud to pass on. Even though I knew I was missing something, I wasn’t sure how to articulate what I wanted to pass on or how to do it. So I set out to determine what makes a meaningful legacy.
In the spirit of Napoleon Hill—the man who studied over 500 self-made millionaires to learn the secrets of their success—I went on a quest to interview the best and brightest in legacy development. Since then, I’ve talked with many estate planning attorneys, financial planners, personal historians, anthropologists, religious leaders, family counselors, and life coaches. I’ve studied everything I could get my hands on about character development, legacy planning, storytelling, spirituality, philosophy, happiness, effectively giving through charitable contributions, and successful family systems. My team and I have interviewed some of the most accomplished people in the world—business executives, millionaires, celebrities, best-selling authors, philanthropic leaders, artists, and scientists — and we discovered that accomplishing great things doesn’t mean you’ll have a great legacy. Without the proper system and focus, your legacy will be accidental.
Throughout this process, I concluded that no company had exactly what I was after all those years ago. There were bits and pieces of advice, ideas about writing ethical wills, fun tips about collecting family memories, and trust structures to ensure an heir’s compliance, but no fully realized system of creating the kind of personal legacy I wanted to leave behind.
Creating A Meaningful Legacy
Before my focus on legacy, I spent over a decade running an integrated marketing services firm that packaged up companies to attract investment capital, launch an IPO, or introduce new concepts to potential customers. I learned that managing your legacy is a similar process. Businesses don’t attract interest based on fundamentals alone; there must be a story, an educational process, and an emotional hook that reveals the vision and connects with a universal desire for a better future. Your legacy is made great for the same reason: It emotionally and competently connects with the people you care about to inspire them.
There are several motivations behind creating a meaningful legacy. Some of the most-mentioned benefits are:
1. More fulfillment and purpose in your life.
2. Closer family who enjoys improved communicationand joint goals.
3. Children exhibiting higher levels of self-esteem, loyalty to the family, independence, and a solid foundation of morals and principles to live by.
4. No regrets—you will not reach the end of your life and wonder why you didn’t express your love before it was too late.
5. Greater peace of mind knowing that your children and loved ones have an “instruction manual” from you outlining lessons you’ve learned, what you believe in, and how you have done practical things (such as manage money or grow your business).
6. Building a legacy to be remembered for, providing hope, a sense of pride, and inspiration for future generations.
7. Creating a tangible record of your life that will be treasured and not fade over time, as memories tend to do.
8. Leveraging your impact on the community in supporting a cause you care about. Financial legacy planning covers a variety of topics, from financial structuring to business succession planning to tax implications. There are many great books to read and experts to follow in these areas. At my company, we work with these experts according to our clients’ needs.
Your Meaning Legacy™
But this book isn’t about giving you the best ways to set up your family foundation or avoid probate; it’s about the “soul” of legacy planning. It’s what branding is to business. It is the heart of your legacy plan—the often-overlooked but most important aspect of truly capturing your essence as a person and furthering your vision for the future. This type of focus is what we call a Meaning Legacy™.
A Meaning Legacy typically affects two types of audiences: Your community or the public. Your family and loved ones.
You’ll need to treat these audiences differently because the kind of information you share with each is significantly different. Your children, for example, will have a different concept of you than will the people who’ve just read an article about you in the Wall Street Journal highlighting your new charity.
The public side of your legacy has much more of a corporate feel—branding you as if you were running for political office. It’s all about marketing you as a great man or woman with a mission for good. I’ve heard pushback on this concept—the idea that it’s narcissistic or egotistical—and some of those elements may manifest at times, but truly, you are here to make a difference.
In his 2011 book Start Something that Matters, Blake Mycoskie, founder of Tom’s Shoes—the corporation that gives away a pair of shoes to someone in need with each purchase—writes about the power of his story. It finally hit him how important he was to the equation when he ran into a woman wearing his shoes. Not knowing who he was, she told his story to him, along with the many amazing things he was doing with the company. It was only after she’d gushed about how incredible he was that he revealed his identity. She’d had no idea; she’d just thought he was some stranger asking about her shoes. This story has about ten times more impact than if Mycoskie had simply written, “We provide people with shoes.”
Connection with Loved Ones
The private side of your legacy is about connection with loved ones. Traditionally, this is your family. When the term “family” is used throughout this book, it could mean your friends, business partners, nieces and nephews, or employees. You don’t need to have children to pass on a legacy; all you need is people you care about. You want to give your heirs the greatest advantages, and your wisdom, love, and family heritage is a significant component. If you have not shared the most important parts of you—your dreams, your journey, your struggles, your successes, your beliefs—with your loved ones, you have not fulfilled your potential.
This book shows you how to define, construct, and implement a meaningful legacy. It covers a comprehensive step-by-step process. I have synthesized my team’s research and our years of experience in a variety of disciplines, from family dynamics to systems design to video production to publishing.
This book is broken into three parts: Part 1: Legacy Foundation Principles Part 2: Components of a Meaning Legacy Part 3: Case Studies
Meant to be an introduction to planning your Meaning Legacy, this book is best read from beginning to end. You may skip the parts that don’t apply to you— if you don’t have children, for instance, you may not be interested in creating a family mission statement. There are a variety of topics I include simply because I want to give you a holistic view of the entire scope of a Meaning Legacy plan. Individual components could each be a book of their own.
The study of legacy has become my obsession, not only to improve my own life but also to provide a resource for others. This book is for everyone, regardless of monetary wealth, who wishes to live a meaningful life. As Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, “If people come up the financial ladder but still maintain a low educational standard, with its lack of appreciation of many of the things of artistic and spiritual value, the nation will not be able to grow to its real stature.” Thus, the audience for this book is not defined by its economic standing but instead by its ideology. Developing a great legacy is within the grasp of anyone with a clear vision.
I believe you have something important to contribute to the world. Whether it’s as meaningful as creating a close, resilient family or as big as pledging to eradicate world hunger, each one of us is meant to do something great and pass it on. This book will show you how.
To download Chapter 1 for free visit www.yourmeaninglegacy.com.
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by Laura A. Roser
CEO and Founder of Paragon Road
#1 Expert in Meaning Legacy Planning