1. "Legacy" and "inheritance" are not synonyms. Most people think of their legacy as what they leave behind when they die. Yes, you leave money--and there's nothing wrong with wanting your heirs to be financially secure--but you also leave memories. Think about which means more to you. Do you want your grandkids to remember you as "Grandpa, the workaholic who never came to my birthday parties, but hey!--he left me a nice college trust fund!" or "Grandpa, who took me on a fishing trip every year, dressed up like Santa every Christmas, and made the best ham & cheese sandwiches ever!"?
2. History matters. Talk to your kids about where they came from. A solid sense of extended family is important. It helps us understand more about ourselves and our place in the world. Talk to your own parents and grandparents (if they're still living) about their parents and grandparents. Share these stories with your children. They'll be fascinated by your great-great-great Uncle Jacob who died in the Civil War or great Grandma Sophie who fought for women's suffrage. Not only are these stories interesting and colorful, they're great jumping-off points for discussions on beliefs and values: How do you think great-great-great Uncle Jacob felt about slavery? What kind of risks do you think great Grandma Sophie took in pursuing the right to vote?
3. Make it a tradition, starting now. In Free Gulliver, Friedler offers an example of new family traditions he's started with his own three children: "I try to plan special trips and outings with each of them individually--just the two of us," he writes. "My 11-year-old son, Henry, and I plan to travel to one away game each year to see our home team, the New Orleans Hornets, play basketball. Each year we'll visit a different arena in a different city. There are 30 teams in the league, so if we stick to our plan, for the next 29 years we'll be alone together for at least one weekend a year. Who knows? I might be taking along some grandchildren to some of those games."
4. Live your values. What you do is a thousand times more powerful than what you say. Train yourself to become aware of the unspoken messages you are sending your kids. You can preach, "Don't smoke" or "Family counts more than work" 'til you're blue in the face. But when your daughter notices you lighting up or missing her school play yet again because of an out-of-town conference, your words are meaningless. "Every time you choose work over your child, it has an impact," says Friedler. "Of course, we all have to live in the world and sometimes work does interfere with family time. But it should be the exception, not the rule. If you consistently neglect your child for your job, perhaps you need to rethink your job. Is your job your priority . . . or is your child?"
5. Be emotionally present with your kids, not just physically. Many busy parents interpret "spending time with their child" very loosely. Being there for your child does not mean parking him in front of the TV while you catch up on a work report that has somehow spilled over into your home time. When you're with your child, you should be with your child--engaging him in conversation, showing him how to bake a cake, helping him build a fort in the living room, whatever. "Just remember that you are orchestrating the memories your kids will have of you as a parent," says Friedler. "Be the kind of mother or father you want them to remember."
6. Giving kids too much money and too few boundaries is like handing them a loaded gun without telling them how it works. This may sound extreme, but Friedler insists he's seen it again and again with his clients. When you substitute material goods--fat trust funds, credit cards, expensive cars--for time spent together and values imparted, you're giving your children the tools they need to self-destruct. And busy (guilt-ridden) parents too often try to make up for their physical and emotional absence with money or lavish gifts. "Attempting to pay kids off doesn't work," notes Friedler. "In fact, it backfires. You're effectively telling them, 'Money is more important than people, more important than family, more important than love.' And a child who grows up believing that is likely to make some very ill-advised decisions in life."
7. To teach kids to manage money, give them a big allowance. (Really!) But here's the caveat: they must use it for everything. Friedler gives his 15-year-old daughter $50 a week. But she has to use it for all of her entertainment and consumer spending: movies, clothes, dinner with her friends, even music she downloads to her iPod®. When it's gone, it's gone--no going to Mom for $10 to go to McDonald's®. "Counterintuitive as it may sound, a generous allowance is a great way to teach the value of money," he says. "I mean, $50 sounds like a lot, but it's not nearly enough to finance everything a teenage girl wants. She has to choose between a movie date with her friends or that $80 sweater she saw at the mall. And you know, when it's her own money she's a lot more likely to wait for that sweater to go on sale before she buys it."
8. Tell your kids now what you want them to know. Then they won't need a document after you die. None of this is to suggest that Friedler doesn't believe in ethical wills. In fact, in his book he recommends writing one. But he thinks it's better if you share the ethical will--whether it's a literal document or a heartfelt conversation--with your children while you're alive. "I ask my clients: What would you like for your kids to know about you that they might not know? This is not an easy question, but usually they come up with an answer. Then my next question is, When did you plan on telling them? There is never a good reason not to do it now."
What you're really doing with your living legacy is helping your children develop the skills they need to succeed on their own. Do it well and even if you can't leave them a dime when you die, they'll be okay.
"You know, some of the most successful people in the world started out with nothing and built their fortunes with their bare hands," he says. "I am proud of those people. They should be proud, too. Succeeding on your own is the greatest feeling in the world. If you're ever tempted to 'give your child everything,' without giving him the opportunity to struggle or fail, stop and ask yourself, Why would I want to deprive my child of that great feeling? Preparing your children to enjoy success on their own merits, on their own terms, is what it's all about. That's a legacy worth living."
Free Gulliver: Six Swift Lessons in Life Planning Tripp Friedler (Trost Publishing, 2005, ISBN: 1-933205-00-8, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and major online booksellers.
About the Author:
Tripp Friedler is Gulliver. A born adventurer, he has weathered his share of storms, cut plenty of strings, and now helps others chart their own journeys. Interested in going back to school? Tripp has a law degree and is working on his second master's; he'll help you find the time. Want a career change? Tripp gave up records to manage a restaurant, sold a business to make more time for his wife and three children. As a Chartered Life Underwriter, a Chartered Financial Consultant, and an Accredited Estate Planner, he has studied the financial plans of over one thousand people and helped them create life plans to reach their goals.