Critter Corner: Leaving a Legacy and Tips for a Family Discussion

Dear Oakley,

I have heard people speaking of leaving a legacy for their loved ones for when they die. The few times I’ve brought it up, my family does not want to talk about death and changes the subject. What exactly is involved in leaving a legacy, and how can I ease my family into the conversation?

Thanks for your help!

Lee Gasee

Dear Lee,

Tom Meuser, PhD, clinical psychologist and Director of the Center for Excellence in Aging & Health at the University of New England, gave a TED Talk on the topic of leaving a legacy. According to Meuser,“ (a) legacy is anything about an individual that continues to have an impact on the lives of others in the future. Legacies reflect our actions and accomplishments, as much as our values and strongly held beliefs.”

For Meuser, as an academic, he describes how “his legacy includes all of the papers and book chapters he’s published over the years.” He describes how “his children are his biological legacies,” and his “old camera collection may be a legacy for his children — if they value it — or it could leave his family and serve as a legacy object for someone else he will never know.”

“We benefit from looking back. It’s grounding,” said Meuser. Over the past decade, Meuser and his students have interviewed over 300 senior volunteers about their life stories and personal legacies and presented them with “Keepsake” DVDs to share with family. His research focuses on the transmission of legacy across generations. He says, “(W)e all have futures, and these extend well past our biological lives. This is where legacy comes in.”

Here are some other quotes Dr. Meuser shares about legacies:

  • “You will never know your true impact in all areas.”
  • “What you value about yourself might not be what others will value when you are gone.”
  • “Legacies are not just memories.”
  • “Whether there is an afterlife in the traditional sense or not, I take comfort in knowing that my legacy will continue. In this way, I will continue, too.” [As a personal aside, I believe there definitely is a very real afterlife in the traditional sense. Click here for more information if you’re interested.]
  • “No matter how well a parent and child know and care about each other, there’s always room for more discussion and mutual understanding on the topic of legacy.”

Looking at Life Experiences Through a ‘Legacy Lens’

In his TED Talk, Dr. Meuser encourages looking at our life experience through a “legacy lens.”

Meuser’s research found that parents and their adult children often have different views of what the parent’s legacy is. “They think they know each other, but not as well as they think. The value of legacy conversations across generations is its potential to bring greater understanding and increase care and affection in families.”

When it comes to discussing your legacy, Meuser suggests starting with yourself. “Think about how you’ll respond. Maybe come up with a brief story about the person’s impact. Then test it out with them. Stay open and curious, checking, ‘do I have it right?’ But remember, some people may not be open to it.”

Another important bit of advice he gives is,”(a)s we review our lives from the vantage point of age, we have a tendency to emphasize the positive, life-giving experience of our own story,” Meuser said. “It doesn’t have to be all rosy, but there’s a tendency to find strength in the past, to focus on the good stuff.”

Starting the Legacy Conversation

If you want to find out more about the lives of your loved ones, below are some questions from the book The Legacy Conversation you can ask in your legacy conversation, to get your family talking:

  • What values and beliefs would you like to pass on to the next generation?
  • Have you ever done a good deed anonymously? Why?
  • What is your first memory of a money mistake?
  • Share a home remedy your family used when you were a child.
  • Have you ever had a life-altering experience? How did this event affect you?
  • Have you ever found wisdom in a song’s lyrics? Name that tune.
  • Which family tradition would you continue with your own family?

On the Farr Law Firm website, you can access a list of additional helpful questions to ask yourself and resources you can use here.

In a past Critter Corner, we wrote about how a legacy letter is a way to document and share (in writing or via an audio or video recording) your values, your spiritual beliefs, and your “life’s lessons.” Legacy letters can include personal and spiritual values, hopes, experiences, love, and forgiveness. It may well be one of the most cherished gifts you can give to your family. Click here to read the article.

For a simple, fun, and convenient way to create your legacy letter, we offer Legacy Stories as a free service for past and current clients and readers to compose, preserve, and share their legacy stories in multi-media. We also include an optional Legacy Letter as part of our proprietary 4 Needs Advance Medical Directive®.

And while you’re contemplating the intangibles of your legacy, be sure to complete your estate planning documents — call the Farr Law Firm to make an appointment for your initial consultation!

Hope this helps!

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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