Your Life and Your Legacy

By Mary Welch

The desire to pass on something to the next generation is a primal and highly personal action. Whether it is the secret family recipe for turkey stuffing, a prized ring or a special book, leaving some sort of memory – a legacy – is a need we all share and our loved ones treasure.

Of course, money is always appreciated.

Felicia Speetjens, managing director and SVP, Private Wealth Management for SunTrust Bank, says that no matter how big – or little – a woman’s financial assets are, she should think and plan for her financial legacy.

“It’s extremely important. It gets down to: what is your philosophy in life? How important is what you have done with your life and how do you want to pass it on. Leaving a legacy says that I’ve done something important with my life and I want it to live beyond me.”

The big three questions to ask when planning out your financial legacy are: Where do I want my assets to go? How will that affect my family and the family dynamics? What’s the most effective and efficient manner to do this?

In today’s world of extended and multiple families, it may be complicated.

“Women today are taking care of parents and might make arrangements for her parents to be taken care of in the case she dies before them. Or a woman may want to leave her money to her daughter and granddaughter but doesn’t think her daughter’s marriage will last. She doesn’t want the ex-husband to get half of her legacy money,” says Speetjens. “Or, she may think her adult child will blow her money and might arrange for the money to be doled out over a period of time.”

Another common scenario is that the woman, who is not on her first marriage, may want to leave money for her husband to be taken care of but after his death, she wants the remaining money to go to her heirs – not his. “Family dynamics can get complicated fast,” she says.

A woman can configure her legacy in several ways. Most leave her financial assets to children, grandchildren and favorite relatives. “That is changing a bit,” says Speetiens. “As woman are living longer and amassing more wealth, many are saying they want to enjoy their life and if that means she doesn’t have a lot of money to leave to her children, that’s fine. The kids can make their own money.”

Other women may choose to leave some assets to family and part to a charity. “Being involved with a nonprofit and charity work is very important to women and they want to recognize and support that work even after they are gone,” she says. “It’s a nice way to both recognize and reward your family as well as your community.”

There are several ways to leave money to a charity. Some make an outright donation and let the charity decide the best way to use the gift; others specify a specific purpose.

If the money is substantial enough, a woman might set up an endowment. Usually an endowment is for a specific restrictive purpose, such as providing scholarships or funding research. But instead of a lump sum, an endowment is set up so that the principal is invested and income is used. In that way, the donation has an impact over a longer period of time.

If a woman has enough wealth (at least $1 million), she should consider setting up a foundation, Speetjens says. “A private foundation truly does live beyond you but it involves a lot more in terms of administrative costs and handling of the assets each year.”

A private foundation requires a board of directors and administrator, who needs to be paid. “A foundation is a sustaining effort that lasts year after year,” she says. “It also is a way for your family members to get involved in your foundation.”

The foundation may fund one cause or support several nonprofits. “Something like the Community Foundation is something like a middle ground,” she says. “It’s not a private foundation and you can decide within the foundation what causes you want to support.”

HollyBeth Anderson, CEO of HollyBeth Organics, a certified organic luxury skincare line, says one of her business goals is to set up a foundation. “From the start, it was important for me to have this business be successful because I wanted to be able to set up a foundation that supports children.”

Adding, “I am not married and I don’t have children. I want to help children emotionally, physically – in any and all ways. That is my legacy.”

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