Helping Clients Define a Legacy of Values

How do middle-age and older adults currently define “leaving a legacy”?  This was the central question of a recent study that examined the attitudes, hopes, and concerns of baby boomers and their elders (Allianz American Legacies Pulse Survey, 2012).

A key finding was that these two generations view legacies as being much more than wealth.  In fact, the transfer of wealth is now seen as just one of four components that comprise a successful legacy plan:

- Values and life lessons
- Instructions and wishes to be fulfilled
- Personal possessions of emotional value
- Financial assets and real estate

Indeed, a majority of the respondents in the American Legacies survey indicated that they were uncomfortable discussing the one-dimensional topic of inheritance, but embraced the idea of leaving a legacy because it captures all facets of an individual’s life including family history, life stories, values, and wishes.  And, while a majority of both boomers and elders view personal items as being important to keeping family history alive, there is a mutual understanding that legacy encompasses much more than material possessions.

Therefore, as a Financial Life Planner, it is far more important to help your clients pay attention to how they will be remembered than the size of the inheritance they will leave or the significance of the personal items they bequeath.  Instead, your client’s legacies will be mostly defined by the level of clarity you help them acquire regarding their true values, and how well their lives reflects those values on a daily basis.

Susan Turnbull, an expert on defining and creating a legacy, wrote the following:

Personal values lie at the core of what is important to you, even if it’s hard to define or articulate those values.  They are born of defining influences and experiences—and demonstrated every day in the way you live your life.

In particular, we communicate what is important to us in the ways we choose to spend both our time and our money.  In Life Matters, authors Roger and Rebecca Merrill emphasize that both are important resources and both are languages of value, “They are highly interrelated, and the way we spend both communicates what’s important in our lives.”


There is no doubt that time is one of the most precious limited resources we have.  However, when there is incongruence between what we value most and the way we spend our time, the result is inner conflict and a lingering sense of dissatisfaction.

Your clients will discover that the clearer their values become, the easier it is to make decisions about how to spend their time.  In other words, when you have helped clients clarify what is most important to them, they can drop additional demands that don’t fit that criterion.  The truth is that saying “no” more often will allow them to say “yes” to what is most meaningful and satisfying.

In Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal, Frederic Hudson wrote:

When you have a dream and a plan working together in the construction of a life chapter, you have a ‘mission,’ a circumscribed purpose that defines your use of time and space for the duration of this particular life chapter.  People with a mission know where they want to go.

As your clients set life goals based on their values, they too will create a sense of mission.  Along with a well-defined mission comes enthusiasm for what one wants to accomplish and commitment to the tasks that lie ahead.  In addition, as your clients continually make room in their lives for what is most important to them, they will strengthen their legacy of values.


The first step to defining your client’s life goals is to clarify what is most important to them.  This is a time for your client to listen to their own heart and to focus on what they value most in life.  Whatever they identify will become the foundation for making important life decisions.  The next step is to think about the role that money can play in helping your clients to achieve each life goal:

- Will sufficient financial resources give them more options for realizing their goals?
- Will economic security give them more freedom to focus their time and attention on what is most important to them?
- Will financial well-being allow them to pursue activities that give their life a sense of meaning and purpose?

Answering these questions will help your clients to understand how their money is integrated into all areas of their lives, not as an end in itself, but rather as an instrument for creating the life they want and the legacy they want to leave.

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