How Should We Think About Legacy?

Here are a few common legacy-oriented goals we help clients plan for, along with important questions that tend to accompany those goals: 

  • Educating the next generation(s). How should we think about ROI when it comes to school and major? How can we involve the student so they have agency in the decision and skin in the game? 
  • Planned charitable gifts. What is giving for, and why am I doing it? Where should the gift go? How should I think about anonymous giving vs. named gifts or even endowing a gift that is named for years to come?
  • Inheritance and lifetime gifts to family. How do we think about money we leave the next generation(s) at our death vs. gifts of money while we are living vs. gifts of experiences while we are living? Is there a “proper” mix? What is the intention and hope for these gifts beyond their financial implications? How much is too much?

These are big questions! And as this WSJ article shows, it’s easy to unintentionally create conflict through the way we answer them—whether in a blended family or not.

When I was about 7, I got my first job selling the local newspaper around the courthouse environs of Carthage, NC, my hometown. I would walk into local businesses and government offices, ask if they wanted to buy a Pilot (as the newspaper was called), and either transact or move on.

In Carthage at the time there were two barbershops—a Black one and a White one—and both barbers bought papers from me regularly. Not only that, but both tipped very well: they always gave me at least a dollar for a $0.50 paper, and near holidays often gave me a $5 or $10 bill and told me to keep the change. Looking back, maybe some of this was pity or confusion that a child was selling newspapers during weekday school hours (I was homeschooled), but I believe the lion’s share of their generosity was due to, well, their generosity.

I tell that story because when we have discussions of “legacy” with our clients I always want to frame those discussions on these terms: that little gestures of sincere kindness and compassion will always serve as the bedrock of legacy—while we are alive and when we are dead. After all, I have no real memories of any other regular customers from those days! And it wasn’t just because they tipped me, but because selling papers was hard and sometimes embarrassing work, and they always treated me with dignity and respect.

So before we get to how much of an inheritance we want to leave children or nieces and nephews, before we talk about planned gifts to your alma mater or favorite charity, before we even discuss how much we want to try and pay for the next generation’s education, we should think about whether these things are happening within the context of kindness and dignity. Because just as it is possible to humiliate someone by being miserly, it is possible to do an unkindness to someone by making a selfish gift, or simply a gift for which the recipient is entirely unprepared to receive.

All that said, here’s my list of have-to’s when it comes to legacy:

  • Kindness and dignifying action, in small ways, throughout your life, is the ultimate legacy-builder.
  • Communication, communication, communication. Talk about it. Be open and transparent in healthy ways with the next generation. 
  • As John Wooden was fond of saying (though originally it’s possibly a Lincoln quote): “The worst thing you can do for those you love is the things they could and should do for themselves.” As your wealth increases, it’s easier and easier to unintentionally violate this maxim. Remember that if kindness and dignifying action are the bedrock, then it sometimes means we say “no” or “wait.”
  • Lean toward now. This is my bias, and I would say it’s a heavy bias. But legacy, if it’s to mean anything, is something you build while you’re living. Our money doesn’t die, so sometimes we are tempted (though we’d never say this explicitly) to attain immortality through our money. This is a mistake. Remember that money has no moral content. Only you can be kind and dignifying; your money cannot.

Big important questions require serious thought and conversation mixed with a healthy dose of courageous action. That’s a cocktail we love here at Beacon. Let us know if we can help.



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Jared Korver
[email protected]

A product of small-town North Carolina (Carthage, to be exact), I’m proudly married to my best friend and co-adventurer, Amy. Together, we have two sons–Miles and Charlie–and could more or less start a library from our home. I love being outside, can’t read enough, am in the habit of writing haikus, and find food and coffee to be among life’s greatest treasures.