With every passing year, I become more acutely aware of my mortality (or maybe it’s just the new wrinkles). Although I never expected to spend my 30s thinking about my death, having children and planning for a stable financial future has forced me to do just that.
If you’re like me, you may think about what you would leave behind if you were to die tomorrow. This might mean buying life insurance to cover the mortgage, writing a will for your assets, and naming guardians for your children.
But what you leave behind doesn’t just include the stuff. Your legacy represents everything you spent your life creating, including your estate and the foundation and lessons you build with those you love.
Here’s a look at how and why to build a lasting legacy for yourself, both financially and beyond.
Leaving a financial legacy: 7 things you can do
If you have a spouse, children, or others who depend on you, you’re probably concerned with the financial legacy you will leave. Here are seven things you can do to create a financial legacy that will last long after you’re gone.
1. Get a handle on your finances
By taking charge of your household finances today, you set up many areas of your life for success. You can avoid (or get out of) debt and adequately save for emergencies, plan for retirement, invest, and more.
Getting a handle on your finances now also helps you to leave a healthy financial legacy for your loved ones. It reduces the chances that you will leave your family with debt that could impact them for years. It also teaches your children sustainable lessons about money.
One place to start is with your monthly household expenses. For instance, there are many easy ways to lower your bills. Doing so frees up those funds for other uses and reduces the amount of money your family would need to survive without you.
2. Create a will (if you haven’t already)
Creating a will can feel uncomfortable and perhaps a bit morbid, but is an essential step in preparing for all circumstances.
The will that you (and your spouse) create can specify who would be responsible for minor children, where your assets should go, how you would want life insurance proceeds to be allocated, and more.
As dreaded as creating a will may be for many, this simple end-of-life document can help you avoid losing sleep over money and let you rest easy knowing that your family is provided for no matter what.
3. Teach your children financial responsibility
Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime, right?
Although modeling responsible financial behavior is important for your kids to see, sitting down and teaching them money truths not taught in school — even from a very early age — sets them up for lifelong success.
After all, our children and their values, successes, and virtues are representative of us as parents. What better financial legacy to leave than to raise children who are independent and responsible with their money?
4. Help your kids build their credit
Growing up, credit scores (and the importance thereof) weren’t really talked about. It wasn’t until I was applying for undergraduate loans that I realized just how important those three numbers are in adulthood.
Helping your kids build their credit as early as possible can give them a leg up on the future. This means teaching them what credit is, how to build a strong credit history, and what to avoid in terms of debt. If you want to help them establish their credit history and begin building a good score, you can do things like adding them as an authorized user on your existing account(s), even when they are young teenagers.
5. Build your retirement savings
Nearly half of families today have no retirement savings at all. A significant portion of the rest has far less retirement savings than they will actually need to survive after their career ends (or they will simply work until they die).
Focus now on building a healthy retirement portfolio so you can enjoy a financially independent life in your later years. This helps you avoid becoming a drain on your loved ones while also allowing you the freedom to live out your best years as you see fit.
Platforms like Betterment make it easy to save for the future and invest those funds in the stock market, even if you don’t know where to start. You can also automate those savings so it’s a hands-off process, building a portfolio that may grow over time.
6. Apply for a life insurance policy
Applying for life insurance is an important part of the estate planning process. If you were to die tomorrow, how would your family survive financially? Would they struggle to balance the mortgage, utilities, grocery bills, childcare, and more in your absence? If so, life insurance is a kind and valuable product to help protect them.
By buying a life insurance policy, you establish a financial safety net for your loved ones if the worst were to happen. This can help pay off debt or just cover basic expenses and provide for the future (think college tuition, weddings, or charitable causes).
To make the process simple and painless, you may want to shop for the best life insurance through a company like Bestow, which offers affordable term coverage in minutes with no medical exam requirement.
7. Support a cause that matters to you
What are you most passionate about in life? What causes or groups would you like to impact, even after you’re gone?
By finding a cause to support, you can create a financial legacy that affects others for years to come. This could mean establishing a scholarship or endowment fund with your alma mater; contributing to an association that holds a special place in your heart; or contributing to a local initiative.
Leaving a personal legacy: 5 things you can do
Although it is admirable to leave behind a tangible legacy — perhaps in the form of your estate — there are virtues that may be even more important to you. Here are five things you can do to leave a lasting legacy behind, wherever you may go.
1. Build a strong family unit
It could be argued that, for many, the family you build is your legacy to future generations.
Whether that family consists of a spouse, children, siblings, extended family members, and/or friends is up to you. Creating a strong, cohesive family unit that stands the test of time can be an invaluable gift to leave to those you love … and can be your most meaningful legacy.
Building this will look different for everyone, but could include things like teaching your kids your family history, creating a family tree, establishing family rituals, making and eating meals together, and even creating family game or activity nights. Figure out what makes you and your loved ones grow closest; then, both cherish and foster those over the years.
2. Focus on the positive
If you want to leave behind a lasting legacy, find ways to impact the lives around you in a positive way. It’s amazing how powerful those impressions can be and how long your actions will stick in the hearts and minds of others affected.
A kind gesture, a listening ear, demonstrating patience and kindness, finding ways to serve others… Your legacy can be as simple as being a good role model and showing and teaching positivity to those you meet.
3. Volunteer with your children
Service is one of the most selfless ways you can affect the world around you in a positive way. Teaching your children the importance of serving others through volunteer work not only impacts the world around you and solidifies your own legacy, but it also teaches your children to value the same.
The time you spend volunteering with your kids brings you all closer together and opens the door for communication. Whether you and your kids choose an ongoing service project, serve at the local food bank a few times a year, or choose Christmas gifts for needy families in your community together, volunteering as a family helps build a great legacy.
4. Teach your children to be resourceful
One of the greatest things you can do for your children is to teach them to be wise, independent, and resourceful. In fact, this is one of the things I am most grateful to my dad for: he taught me to be self-reliant and confident, no matter what situation arises.
Show them the basics: how to change a tire, fix a leaky faucet, and change their oil. But more than that, teach them to approach life’s problems from a place of confidence.
These life lessons and attitudes of resourcefulness will come in handy in their personal lives, in their homes, in their jobs, and could even save their lives one day. And chances are, your children will recognize the value of these life lessons and pass them on to their own children.
5. Actively care for others
The things you say and teach may stick with colleagues, friends, and family for years to come… but the things you do and how you make others feel will define your legacy forever.
When writing this piece, I asked my husband what he will remember most about his own hero, his father. Although his dad was always a hard worker and could fix anything, my husband’s most cherished memories involve his dad showing up for every soccer game he played, even through college.
Big things, small things: just put in the time and energy to show those around you how much you care. Set your phone down and share conversations and laughs with those around you. Show up for birthday parties and graduations and little league games. Volunteer and donate your time to others.
Let your love be active rather than passive. This solidifies your legacy in two ways: the recipients of your time and attention will always remember how you made them feel, and they cherish those gestures for years. Those around you will also see how you spent your life actively caring for others; they will remember you in this way, and your actions may even compel them to do the same in their own lives.
The bottom line on leaving a lasting legacy
No one wants to be forgotten after they are gone, whether moving out of state, leaving a company, or dying. The years go on and life evolves, though, and what you leave behind is your legacy.
Your legacy can take many forms, including financial, which you will bequeath to others in your life. It’s important to define what kind of legacy you want to pass down to the next generation, then spend your years developing a life that supports those goals. Whether you’re building a family trust fund or building a history of philanthropy (or both!), there are many things you can do today to ensure that you leave behind that lasting legacy.