Column: How to live your legacy

Two weeks ago we said farewell to the most loyal reader of this column, my father.

Naturally, there is a lot of sorrow right now, but we are also overwhelmed with gratitude over what he has left behind. In the end, I think his heart failed him because it needed to escape the confines of his body.

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We are now beginning to help mom deal with the inevitable administrative details.

Settling an estate essentially involves terminating relationships with a myriad of government agencies, employer retiree benefits, insurance plans and investment accounts. It also involves initiating benefits for the surviving spouse, transferring titles on assets, and settling the will.

This is a traumatic process. Although we have been met with heartfelt kindness from every office we have dealt with so far, our society essentially requires us to erase the past and present records of those who have left us.

This leaves us with a fundamentally powerful question: In addition to our estate plan, what is our legacy plan? Which part of us continues into the future?

The questions I would ask are inspired by the lessons my dad taught us:

Which attitude defines us: “serve us” or “service”? The most fulfilled people I know are those who habitually serve others.

When the going gets tough, do we give up or persevere? Think of the transformation that takes place when we never give up on others!

Will we leave behind financial uncertainty or security? Those who leave a solid financial foundation give their families the freedom to build on their achievements.

Will your eulogy be long-remembered or forgotten? Before the printed word, stories of great men and women were passed on for many generations. Your heirs must continue learning from your legacy.

Do we begin with entitlement or with gratitude? It is no secret that the happiest people take nothing for granted.

What is the essence of a great legacy? The character Jackie O’Shea said it best in the movie Waking Ned Devine:

“Michael O’Sullivan was my great friend. But I don’t ever remember telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front and hear what was said, maybe say a few things yourself. Michael and I grew old together. But at times, when we laughed, we grew young. If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”

We can never serve, appreciate or thank each other enough. That is a legacy worth pursuing.

The opinions expressed are those of Richard Vetter, BA, CFP, CLU, ChFC.  Richard is a Certified Financial Planner and owner of WealthSmart Financial Group in Richmond, BC, www.wealthsmart.ca

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