Passing Along Your Legacy to Your Children

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.* You get two days off of work and a license to eat a few thousand calories worth of fat, sugar, and starch with nary a green vegetable in site. What’s not to love?

* The obvious caveat here is that this only applies if I am not hosting. If I am hosting, Thanksgiving is like any other Thursday except I will have spent the three weeks before in a cleaning blitz, the dinner prep will take eight hours, and my meal will end after ten minutes when the grandmas decide it is time to start the clean up and let the men enjoy their conversation and football.

Kidding aside, it’s also the one day of the year that is purely about getting together with family and friends and catching up. I usually write about estate planning issues on Wednesday. With Thanksgiving in mind, I thought I would write about a topic that’s not necessarily legal, but should be a critical part of your estate planning process, passing along your legacy to your children.

What do I mean by “legacy?” Your legacy is the collection of life lessons you want to teach your children. These include your values, stories about your life and the lives of your family, and experiences you want to share with your children. Most of us will be able to share our legacies with our children in pieces, when the timing is right. But some of us won’t be so fortunate.

Estate planning is morbid and uncomfortable. I get that-no parent wants to contemplate their own mortality and the thought of their young children being without them. But none of us knows when we are going to die and part of being a responsible parent is doing at least some basic estate planning, including naming a guardian for your children.

I want you to take this one step further. Take the time consider the life lessons you want your children to learn, even if God forbid you are not there in person to teach them. You don’t need to write a memoir or produce a documentary of your life. It’s fine to do this at your own pace, but please do it.

Your mom regales your husband with embarrassing stories about you in high school over the Thanksgiving turkey? Take a few minutes to jot down a letter to your child about what you have learned from your own most embarrassing moments. For me, it’s that I am my biggest critic and that while at the time I felt like everyone was judging and criticizing me, they were probably actually empathizing because at one time or another they were in exactly my position.

Lose out on a promotion at work? Hit the record button on your iPhone and tell your children that failing at something and moving on is not only part of life, but it’s how we learn to deal with the challenges that life throws at us.

Facebook “on this day” memories keeps recycling pictures of your kids from one, five, ten years ago in your feed? Use your iPhone to take a video of yourself talking about your memories of those photos.

Upload all of these notes and recordings to a flash drive and keep it with your other estate planning documents. In the unfortunate and unlikely event that you don’t live long enough to see your children grown, these mementos of you will be invaluable to your children as they try to navigate a world without you.

Why a picture of a pirate ship with this post?

I mentioned last week that this week is the third anniversary of my dad’s death. Before my dad’s death, he wrote for each of his grandchildren a letter to be opened on their 18th birthdays. The four letters for my daughters are kept in a fireproof safe in our house.

I know the letter for my oldest daughter includes a reference to pirates. Yes, pirates. My dad read Treasure Island to me when I was a little girl. It was one of his favorite books and is still one of mine. He had a replica of a frigate complete with a pirate. My oldest daughter was fascinated with this ship. My dad would move the pirate before every visit and she would squeal with delight thinking the pirate had moved on his own. That ship is still in my mom’s house and my daughter moves the pirate every time we go to the house in memory of her grandpa.

Since my dad’s death, I have been following his lead and from time to time writing letters to my girls. I hope you will do the same for your own children.

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

What is your legacy? What life lessons are you going to teach to your children? What values do you want your children to learn? What family stories do you want your children to hear? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

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