By Emerson Hartzler
In one way or another I think each of us wants to leave some mark on the world: leaving the planet in better shape, making things better for the next generation, or at least not having to rent our pallbearers. The part of that equation I get to deal with on a regular basis is the question clients often ask: “What should I do with the money I will leave behind when I go to my eternal reward?”
My ancestors were pretty much agrarian, and so the legacy of the family farm was almost a sacred trust. Had that small patch of Ohio farmland not been passed down to my father, the Great Depression might have wiped out my parents and my six older siblings, and mom and dad might have had some second thoughts about my conception in 1941! Luckily there were animals in the barnyard (milk and meat), vegetables in the garden and fruit hanging from the trees. My sisters wore dresses fashioned from chicken feed bags (true story – you can’t make this stuff up!), but the patterns were carefully chosen.
So for today’s seniors, the natural assumption is that the estate must go to the children, and of course they all have to be treated equally. I would suggest you ask yourself two questions before coming to those conclusions:
- Is it possible to love your children equally, but treat them uniquely?
- Will your child’s receipt of a large inheritance be a blessing or a curse?
With the Hartzler family, this (necessary) tradition of handing down the family farm, which was started soon after our arrival in this country in 1750, ended with my parents. Only one of the seven children in our household was ever engaged in farming, and by that time the small acreage we still had was no longer economically viable. So our two children (who seem to be doing better financially than we had ever imagined when they were teenagers – the jury was out for quite some time!) have been advised to expect token amounts at our demise. I’ve met a few “trust fund babies,” and I try to keep my distance! Of course, if any of my family had special needs, they would get every penny of my estate.
My model for treating children uniquely comes out of my faith, believing there is a God who loves each human creature equally. But this same creator has certainly treated us uniquely. Every time I hear an operatic tenor soar gracefully to that signature high C, I know the world is not fair! Following that model, I would not have any crisis of conscience in treating my children differently in distributing my legacy, doing so according to their unique needs.
Now once you have carefully considered the needs of your heirs, you may have other causes about which you care deeply, and there is real joy in giving to those causes. Like many other not-for-profit organizations, Lakeview Village has a Foundation, and every day I enjoy some benefit provided by a generous fellow resident through that Foundation.
Some would strongly advocate “giving when you’re living, so you’re knowing where it’s going,” but I think legacy giving is also a viable option. In any case, such generosity can be a most satisfying part of your legacy. Just maybe, you really can make a difference!
Emerson Hartzler, MBA, is a Lakeview Village resident, and, though he lives in a retirement community, he continues working as a financial advisor for Triune Financial Partners, LLC, at Lighton Plaza, 7300 College Blvd., in Overland Park, Kan. Reach Triune at 913-825-6100.