Obituary Guide

Ways to Leave a Legacy

Brandon Sun, December 30, 2013

David McConkey

The end of a year inspires reflection. For those of us who are a bit older, we are thinking about the passing of more than just another year. We are making our “bucket list”: the things we want to do before we “kick the bucket.”

But the young also live with an awareness of death. Their motto is YOLO: “You Only Live Once.”

This column is about adding something to the bucket list and to the notion that you only live once. This is about leaving a legacy.

Of course – by how we live – we leave a legacy each day. And that is all the more reason to live a life as fulfilling and meaningful as we can. But there are some specific things we can do to increase the impact of our legacy.

Donating money to charity for one. And this idea is not just for the wealthy. Those of modest means should keep in mind the power of budgeting and contributing a small amount over time. And remember income tax credits, which usually reduce the net cost of donations by more than 40%.

For citizens of southwestern Manitoba, a great way to donate is to a community foundation. There are about 20 here in our region; one is the Brandon Area Community Foundation. Check out the Endow Manitoba website.

Talk about leaving a legacy! Donations to a foundation help the community in perpetuity. The principal is never used. Instead, it is invested with the income supporting local programs forever.

In the case of the Brandon Area Community Foundation, the easiest way is to simply donate money to its general fund. If you give at least $1,000, your name is inscribed as a donor for all time. (You can also remain anonymous or recognize your family or the memory of someone.)

If you would like to have more of a say in where your money goes, you can set up a special fund within the foundation. This kind of fund requires a minimum of $5,000. You designate where the earnings go: either to your preferred field of interest or to your specified charity.

For a field of interest, consider areas such as the arts, education, environment, health, heritage, or sports. For a charity to specify – well, there is a bounty from which to choose.

Your fund can be added to over the years, and even over the generations. Memorial donations make a powerful and lasting testament. Community foundations observe that such donations support what you “lived for, rather than died of.”

If your finances are at all complicated, consult with your lawyer and financial adviser. Donation choices could include money now, a bequest in a will, life insurance, publicly traded securities (stocks and bonds), RRSPs / RRIFs, real estate, or other property.

Planning is most important. Kevin Martin, a financial adviser with Freedom 55 Financial, reminds his clients to think ahead. He points out that it is not enough just to have the thought that some of your money could go to charity.

“You have to be specific, then your wishes will happen,” Martin says.

Here are seven more ideas. Remember: these are not just for older folks. At any age, we leave a legacy by how we live our life. And by how we prepare for our death.

1.  Plan Ahead
Get your affairs in order by making arrangements for your will, power of attorney, health care directive (“living will”), file of Internet passwords, instructions for your funeral, and so on.

2.  Tidy Up
Don’t leave a mess. Organize and declutter your belongings.

3 Legacy Letter
Consider composing such a document. This is a chance for you to reflect on the meaning of your life and to pass down a sense of your values to the next generation. (Note: this is also called an "ethical will.")

4.  Life Story
Summarizing your life in a couple of pages fulfils two purposes. Right now, it can inform and enlighten your family. Later, it can serve as the basis of your obituary.

5.  Your Memoir
This is a larger project, but it would be appreciated in the future. Although it may seem daunting, it won’t happen unless you get started.

6.  Family History
Collect and record any stories and genealogical information you have.

7.  Bucket List
Remember YOLO – You Only Live Once. Don’t dismiss your bucket list as a place just to put ideas and then forget about them. Live your list.

* * *
See Also:

Six Words To Describe A Life? 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Effective Altruism Poised to Make Major Impact

Writing an Obituary Worth Reading

Death and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder

From the Résumé to the Eulogy: Describing Ourselves

Be Prepared: Will, Health Care Directive (Living Will), Obituary, and More

Live Well, Do Good

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