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Building a Sustainable Family Legacy

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April 5, 2016

I promised earlier in the year to tell you more about what Building a Sustainable Family Legacy means to me. What I think about this today at 65 is very different from what I would have thought at 45, when we had one child in university and two in high school. So for those of you still going through those times I say, have fun, endure and it will get better.

So let’s start at the end, what do I mean by a legacy? When I think about my own legacy, I hope our kids will inherit two things from me and Judy – values and money.

Like many of my generation, I was raised in a family with little money. My parents had to count every penny. Yet my sisters and I didn’t do without food, clothing and an education. I started work at a young age earning money raking leaves, shoveling snow, delivering newspapers, as did each of my sisters. Our parents couldn’t give us much in the way of money, but when they passed on they had saved far more than many people today. What they did instill in us were values like loyalty to family and friends, hard work, honesty and caring.

So those values are extremely important to me and I want to pass them on to my children and grandchildren. I also want to use them in my everyday interaction with my clients, my friends and my family members.

I have a laminated quote that I read every morning during my shaving time. It’s stuck right on the bathroom mirror so I can’t miss it.

“I want to bring L.U.C.K. to those I meet today.”

L.U.C.K. stands for Love, Understanding, Compassion and Kindness. I’m not always 100% successful, but I am better for trying. And I hope these are values that Judy and I can pass on to our kids and grandkids.

When you think about building your legacy, think about the values that go along with the money you want to pass on.

For the money part, very few of us will depart this earth having spent our last cent. Some will live too long and run out of money. They will need the support of family members, our governments and maybe friends, if they can.

Many of us will leave behind a financial legacy. And for those of us that can, it makes sense to do that in the most tax-efficient manner. And can we influence it down to 3rd and 4th generations? Once again, some people will consider these important questions, some will never have considered it and for some they may not know how this is even possible. More about this later.

Next, let’s tackle the idea of sustainability. It starts with a plan that ensures you and your loved ones are able to enjoy what you have, help others including family, favourite charities, friends where you are able, and even having a spare toonie or change to give to the kids at the grocery fundraising for their special group. It includes giving time to those who need it. Making dates with children and grandchildren.

We may hear horror stories of the second or third generation blowing the family financial legacy, but I know many stories that show the opposite. Families that have inherited significant sums but don’t suffer from “affluenza”, who donate significant amounts of time and money to those around them without damaging their ability to continue to contribute. And that is likely the result of the values that were part of that legacy to begin with.

Now, back to the beginning of the phrase – building. This means ensuring you are an efficient steward of the assets you have accumulated. That’s where your financial advisor comes in. He or she (or if you are reading this, me) can help you build a road map and create a plan.

In my opinion, you also discuss the plan with your spouse, children and anyone else you think should be at the table. For some people this may include your lawyer and/or accountant. In many situations there is a quarterback for this entire process and often this is the financial advisor. This probably shouldn’t be a one-time thing but a start would be to set aside one day this year and bring your family together for a meeting. Now you have begun to Build a Sustainable Family Legacy.

Making a Start
Finally, I’m going to go back to one of my favourite authors and the book I previously referenced and on page 71 of The Behavior Gap, Carl Richards quotes George Kinder and the 3 questions he likes to ask his clients:

  • First, imagine you are financially secure. How would you live your life? What would you change?
  • Next, imagine a doctor tells you that you have only five to ten years to live – but you won’t feel sick. What will you do in the remaining time?
  • Finally, this time the doctor says you have twenty-four hours. What feelings arise? What did you miss?

It’s questions like these that have made me review so many parts of what I do and how I do them. It’s a start. I know I will never be done. I hope that this gives you a start.

I hope this newsletter has been helpful, if there are any questions raised by this please let me know. I’m still learning how to put my thoughts on paper in a coherent manner so forgive me any missteps. Until next time where I will write about our company’s annual retreat.


Michael’s Book Shelf:

“Another book that has impacted me that I am almost done is The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware. Check it out when you allow yourself time.”

Find it on or at your local bookshop.

Video from Hull & Hull LLP

Video: This video from Hull & Hull LLP covers some important bascis about estate planning and includes good advice, especially for younger people.


Founding Partner | Financial Planner
Michael Caldwell has been helping people sort through their money issues since the early 1970s. He has a way of talking numbers that just makes sense. Combined with wry humour and a curious mind, Michael writes about current topics of interest to the clients that he works with in his practice at Caldwell Wealth & Estate Advisory.

Read Michael's full bio »

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