What are you leaving behind – An inheritance or a legacy?

Written and accurate as at: 12 April 2015

It’s a startling fact that many Australians fail to put effective estate planning provisions in place or think about the legacy that they wish to leave behind to their family and future generations.

Warren Buffet, one of the world’s most famous billionaires and successful investors was asked about the large amount of money he will leave behind to his children. He answered that the majority of his fortune will go to charities. He went further to say that he will leave his kids enough that they can do something, but not so much as they do nothing. Warren Buffet is leaving an inheritance and a legacy.

We work hard to accumulate our assets, yet many of us fail to create a Will or Death Benefit Nominations which deal with what will happen to our assets when we die. Or we put a Will in place a long time ago and it may not be relevant in current circumstances.

Planning an Inheritance

An inheritance is something you leave behind for your family and loved ones.

There are a number of basic steps to planning an inheritance:

  • Make your wishes clear and in writing. This will generally mean a Will. You may wish to have a Letter of Intent to accompany the Will. A letter of intent is not a formal legal document, but it helps the executors, guardians, trustees or the courts interpret your hopes and desires for your beneficiaries and the distribution of your assets in accordance with your wishes. 
  • Discuss your intentions with your family. This may help them to better understand your wishes and avoid a potential misunderstanding in the future.
  • Cover all bases. Make sure your Will provides for events such as your own death, or what happens should you and your spouse or partner both pass away. It should take into consideration care and guardianship for children and distribution of assets to other beneficiaries. Taking the time to plan for all contingencies can help to avoid a Will being contested.
  • Establish beneficiary nominations for your superannuation and pension accounts. These assets do not automatically form part of your estate assets so it’s important to provide clear instruction to the trustees of the superannuation fund as to your intention for these accounts.
  • Ensure you have a Powers of Attorney in place for your health and finances.

The importance of a comprehensive estate plan is further discussed in this article and we’ve created a handy checklist to creating a Will you can review too.

Leaving a Legacy

In developing an effective estate plan you may also wish to consider the legacy that you plan to leave behind.

A legacy may include an inheritance of money or property, but it doesn’t have to be a monetary outcome. It’s also the value system that you live by and the memories that you leave behind. It’s quite possible for someone to leave behind a wealth of inheritance, but no legacy.

We generally think of positive legacies, but we can also leave negative ones.

Personal traits, habits and our actions can all be a burden placed on future generations.

The legacy left behind by our ancestors through their values, choices, culture and customs largely shaped who we are today and like them, our legacy will help shape the lives of our children, their children and future generations.

So how do we leave a good legacy? We can start by remembering, that everything we do leaves an impact and every action produces an effect. There are many different aspects to leaving a legacy including personal, social, environmental and spiritual/religious.

We can work towards making a positive contribution to our community and society. We can aim to be the best father, mother, grand parent, friend, mentor, brother, sister, uncle, aunty that we can be. Remembering that one person can make a big difference. We can focus on living a healthy and happy life attuned to our values. We can give to others. We can reduce our dependability on non-renewable resources. Plant more trees, avoid the use of plastic bags and bottles.

Have you thought lately about what legacy you plan to leave, whether you plan to leave an inheritance – or both?