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Leaving Your Legacy (even without a dollar to your name)

I’m not that fond of the term “legacy planning” because it seems too presumptive for me, and it feels way too Queen of England – although I could imagine leaving all my assets to a corgi some day… What “legacy” infers is that you need wealth, heirs, and trust funds for which to appropriately plan. Let me tell you this – if you have wealth, heirs and trust funds, you need more than a legacy plan. You need a few accountants, lawyers, and wealth managers to get into a room and let the odds be ever in their favor. They can benefit from a solid plan too, don’t get me wrong – and please don’t let your grandkids handle it all by themselves.


But we ALL can have a plan for how we want to shape the world. Start small and see where it takes you. Start with this one thought:

If there were ONE story my grandkids heard about me that inspired them to live a good life, what would that story sound like?


Quick story about my friend Julianna & legacy:

I was in a leadership group meeting a few months ago and at the end, everyone talks about their goals for the next quarter. We shared things like, I want to be more thoughtful boss, or I want to invest in my health and workout more, etc. As we all went around the room and mainly talked about our immediate problems, the line stopped on my sweet friend Julianna, and she declared that her goal was to figure out where she wanted to give back so she could start leaving her legacy. It was really troubling her. She wanted to make an impact in a way that felt meaningful to her. In the moment, I just blurted out, “What if the way you LIVE is just as important as the way you GIVE?”


We all went silent and Julianna smiled. “Thank you”, she said with a smirk. She continued, “I never thought of it that way. I can start today living out my legacy, and all the while work on how I want giving to be a part of that.”




So what is legacy planning anyways?

It’s creating the vision for how you’d like to make an impact on the world long term. It’s having a mission that goes beyond your purpose and impacts the world in a lasting way. Maybe your purpose and mission are one in the same, which is good too. Most people may consider legacy planning all about how their wealth will make an impact on the world – but I am redefining that. Because it’s SO much more than just money.

Where to start

When I sit down with families to talk legacy, we start the same as I do with a business. We dig into their passions, their purpose, their stakeholders (in this case family, friends, and community), and the injustices or hardships they’ve endured or feel most affected by. Addressing the dark with the light is important – because beauty lies within all of it.

We then create a mission, vision, and values for the family’s giving.

This might sound super out there and crazy and non-important if you’re single right now making decisions like, “is a burrito more calories than a piece of pizza?”, but it’s really not that crazy.

Let’s start small with just the values. By living out your values, you can influence your life all on your own. To get there, it starts with taking the time to notice the stories that impact you.  Then determine how you want yours to be told. You have a lot of control over this.

My great grandfather is the shining example of this for me (I named the company after him) because though I have never met him, I think about him often. His legacy lives on in a story about integrity, generosity, and family. He was honorable and it makes me feel like some of that honor is in my own blood – something passed down that I get to preserve and help grow.

Now that I am working on my own family, I think often about the qualities that I hope live beyond me. I think about how I can contribute each day to making a case for what I believe in so that it leaves a solid path for my kids and grandkids to walk down.


The first step you need to take, is figuring out these four things: values, actions, causes, and dreams.

1.     What are the VALUES I want to embody?

Example: integrity, honesty, trust, love, kindness

2.     What are the ACTIONS I want to do?

Example: Be present at family events, volunteer, include people in my work, include people in my hobbies

3.     What are the CAUSES I feel most drawn to?

Example: animal welfare, humanitarian efforts, homelessness

4.     How do I DREAM for the world to be better?

Example: more farmer’s markets, less hate crimes, more animals, less waste




Answering these four questions can take you down the start of the legacy path. Start today in a really tiny way: write down the answers to these questions, and start to look at them each day. Start to live it.

Other ways to start now:

·      Include family into your life and plan

·      Declare your values to those close to you to help you stay accountable

·      Start to make changes in your behavior that reflect your values

·      Schedule a time to volunteer

·      Research causes that you care about, and find local charities that can help


Is struggle with this daily by the way - living my values. I mess up from time to time and act out of character, or simply act like a total brat and look back and think, "dang that was NOT the best me". So go easy on yourself, and remind yourself often of your goals. You'll look back one day and be glad you did.