Retirement and Your Legacy
Talk with someone – whether a friend or financial advisor – about whether there’s going to be enough money to retire on, and the conversation is likely to focus entirely on whether you have enough to pay your bills, and maybe to allow for a few extras or to cover emergencies.
But there’s a good chance that the issue of “legacy” – what you want to leave behind when you’re gone – will not come up at all.
This is a serious oversight. Despite all the not-really-funny bumper-stickers that proudly state “I’m spending my children’s inheritance,” most people actually care about their children and grandchildren, and would be delighted to leave something behind for them. For many people, this is actually a priority. Or maybe they want to leave something to their church, their college, or some charity or other cause that’s close to their hearts.
Sometimes it’s more than just a wish – it’s a necessity. Some families have disabled or partially disabled family members (and it might well be sibling rather than a child or grandchild) who is clearly going to need additional support. In other cases, retired people might observe that their grandchildren are behind the eight ball in some important respect, or perhaps they have a gift rather than a weakness, and the grandparents want to see that the opportunity to develop that gift will exist.
This isn’t always a matter of leaving a will or a trust and some kind of funding behind when you die. You can choose to leave a legacy during your lifetime, or to leave part of it during your lifetime – provided you’ve made a financial allowance for it. This gives you the pleasure of seeing the good that comes from it, it enables the recipients to express the gratitude that they rightly feel, and in some cases the help will be of greater benefit if it’s given sooner rather than later.
And, for that matter, there’s more to legacy than money. For most people, the financial legacies they leave behind are more symbolic than life-changing. Take the estate that a typical middle-class family leaves behind, divide it up among a few children, and it’s a nice little windfall – some bills get paid off, some long-desired goodies are purchased, maybe some money goes into a grandchild’s college savings fund. But no one gets rich, and while life goes on a little more easily for a while, things soon settle back more or less to where they were.
That’s why non-financial legacies are often more important. Our wisdom, our family history, our own story and the lessons it teaches, and the knowledge and experience of who we really were and how we behaved at our best, are what our remaining family and friends will be able to keep in their own minds and hearts, and maybe even pass along to others down through the years. As the The Band Perry sang a few years back in their hit single, “If I Die Young”:
A penny for my thoughts, oh, no, I’ll sell ’em for a dollar.
They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner.
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’.
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’.
Far from disregarding legacy as we so often tend to do, we should be putting extra focus on it. Whether we thrive or struggle in retirement obviously matters, but when we’re gone, our legacies are what survive us, and give us at least a taste of immorality.
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