How to Leave a Legacy when You Don’t Have Children

The question of what you leave behind can be especially fraught for people who do not have heirs. Karen Malone Wright, 62, founder of a website for childless women- and an only child with no kids herself- she’s never been able to shake the feeling of being the last one to turn the lights out.

Ms. Malone Wright noted that even if you have a child either by choice or circumstance you have no way to control where your child carries your legacy; it might not be a direction you would choose.

You don’t have to be rich, a genius or a world-renowned luminary to leave a lasting impression on people’s lives and generations to come. Here are some ways to leave a legacy when you don’t have genetic offspring.

Get it in writing

The biggest obstacle when leaving money or assets to loved ones, institutions or charities is overcoming procrastination and putting a plan in place.

“Put serious thought into what matters to you most in life and do this for yourself, for your own peace of mind,” said M. Eileen Dougherty, an accredited estate planner and president of the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils.

Ms. Dougherty recommends three necessary documents:

  • A valid will that meets the requirements of one’s legal state of residence

  • Power of attorney

  • Health care power of attorney and secure people as backups.

“If you don’t write it down, the government decides what your estate plan is, so why not take the time to have properly drafted documents and then take them out once a year and see if they still make sense,” she said.

Preserve your family history

Put your best life advice in writing. Share your experiences, triumphs, and favorite recipes this way your personality can live on even when you’re gone. Don’t forget that the recipient must be on board and agree to save what you send.

Kathleen W. Hinckley, a certified genealogist and executive director of the Association of Professional Genealogists, encourages those who do not have children to collate any important family mementos. “Cousins that you may have, or nieces and nephews, might love to receive whatever family heirlooms or history that you have to pass on,” she said. Be your own biographer: “write a story, booklet, or book, however advanced you want it to be.”

If family members were part of the early history of the area, donate images to a historical society or an archivist. Photos that include a main street or houses that no longer exist could be greatly appreciated by history buffs.

Support institutions you find meaningful

Giving money to schools is another way non-parents cement their legacy. However, before doing so, discuss your intentions with the institution you have in mind.

If you choose to set up an academic scholarship in your name, it’s important to keep plans flexible.

Champion worthy causes

Whatever drives you- consider taking a more active role in a cherished cause or leaving money or assets to a worthy organization that reflects your values.

Do your research before you give away your hard earned dollars. This way you can be sure it’s going exactly where you want it to.

Overall, the most important thing is to have a plan. Prince, Jimi Hendrix, and Howard Hughes offer cautionary tales because they died without a will. “What happens in most of those cases, particularly if the estate’s of any size, there’s litigation that pursues, and charities are just left out,” said Ginger Mlakar, senior counsel and director of donor relations at the Cleveland Foundation.

“Many people associate estate planning strictly with death,” Ms. Dougherty said. “This is really about making sure what you want happens.” For more information regarding your legacy contact David Veliz at Veliz Katz Law and he can guide you through the appropriate steps for a lasting legacy. To read the full article by Anna Goldfarb at the New York Times click here.


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