What is the Meaning of Life? Going Beyond the Numbers to Discuss Client Legacy

couple talking to advisor in office

The meaning of life and legacy often go hand in hand. Broaching the conversation of legacy plans with your client is a way to make meaningful connections that deepen client relationships beyond the numbers.

How your client wants to leave a legacy might include philanthropic goals, but it doesn’t always. Legacy is unique to every person, and there are so many ways for your clients to be remembered and leave an impact. Knowing how to approach legacy conversations and asking the right questions can help you understand the heart behind your client’s plan so that you can help them fulfill their vision for making a lasting impact.

Why talk about legacy?

A legacy conversation benefits both the client and the advisor. For some clients, it might be the first time they consider their life’s purpose and what they want to leave behind. For clients who have already given their legacy some thought, opening this conversation may prompt them to finally take action, or revise their previous plans to fit where they are now in life.

As the advisor, broaching the conversation about a client’s legacy can help deepen your relationship. Not only does it show how much you care that they live a fulfilled life, but this meaningful conversation may not happen with anyone else.

Depending on the time you have available and your comfort level, legacy and philanthropic conversations may also allow you to broaden the services you offer to your clients.

Start from where you are. Engage with your clients within your comfort level and refer them to experts as needed; starting the conversation with a trusted referral is another big value-add for your clients.

What’s in name: ways to create a legacy.

Beyond cash and assets, there are many ways for your clients to leave a lasting impact. Everyone’s ideas of legacy are very individual; when opening legacy conversations with your clients, consider the following realms through which they may wish to establish their legacy:

  • Children and grandchildren
  • Career, hobbies, or other passions
  • Reputation, core values, or character, inspiring others to emulate it
  • Share their life story or key life lessons in verbal, written, or video format
  • Business succession planning
  • Volunteering time with charitable organizations and/or giving assets either now or after passing
  • Passing on sentimental objects or photos
  • A complex dynasty trust designated for a specific purpose, like educating future generations

Discussing various ways to define a legacy with your client will help you get a better understanding of the heart behind their intentions and allow you to guide them to create the right plan.

How to approach the legacy conversation.

With an understanding of the many ways a client can create a legacy, how do you start the legacy conversation with your clients if you’re new to the topic? It might be easiest to start with the clients who are more likely interested in a legacy conversation – they might fall into one of the following three groups: child-free; charitably minded; and clients who wish to involve family.

Child-Free Clients

Adults and couples without children are a growing population as people delay marriage, remain single, or choose not to have children. For child-free clients, the question of where their assets will go after their lifetime and how they will be remembered may not be as obvious as for those with children. Because of this, your child-free clients will likely be open to a legacy conversation. Ask questions without judgement and listen to what is important to their personal definition of legacy to help them create a plan they are happy with.

Charitable Clients

The second likely group in your portfolio for a legacy conversation are clients who have already demonstrated that they are charitably minded. For these clients, a legacy conversation may best be guided by a discussion about a giving plan. A giving plan leads to more purposeful, impactful, and tax-wise philanthropy–it’s a huge win toward fulfilling your client’s legacy.

When discussing a giving plan with your clients, consider the following factors:

  • How does their current giving pattern look? Does your client support a specific organization like the American Heart Association, or are they casually helping friends and loved ones? Having clearly defined goals allows your client to say “no” to donation requests that don’t fit into their giving plan.

  • What is the best way for your client to give? Cash is not necessarily the most tax-efficient way to give when donating to a qualified charity, and there are many gift vehicles to choose from which may better benefit your clients. They can make outright gifts now, or planned gifts after their lifetime. Another option is to open a donor advised fund account instead of an administration-heavy foundation. Other giving vehicle options offer lifetime income back to the client– like Charitable Gift Annuities and Charitable Remainder Trusts. The American Heart Association has many streamlined approaches for you and your clients to make gifts of non-cash assets. There is never an obligation to make a gift to the American Heart Association when requesting our materials.

  • Does your client value recognition? Conversations about a giving plan should also include how much your client desires to be directly involved with the causes they care about and are supporting. Do they want to be hands-on and volunteer or serve on the board? Similarly, ask your client if they want recognition for their charitable donations–like donors with their name on a building–or if they prefer to give anonymously.

A giving plan is ongoing, and over time your clients should assess the impact of their giving to ensure that they are making their desired impact.

While these three groups are a great place to start, everyone should have the opportunity to create a legacy and all your clients should be afforded a legacy conversation.

Clients Involving Family

For your clients who want to involve family members in a legacy discussion, extra preparations are recommended for a successful conversation. Familial relationships are rarely straightforward, and it’s up to your client to define who they consider family and think about how different relationship dynamics might impact the outcome of the conversation. A little upfront preparation can go a long way to ensure a smooth meeting.

Tips for a successful family conversation include:

  • Ahead of the meeting, discuss with your client who they want to involve. It may be helpful to remind your client that the ages and relationships of the attendees will shape the meeting content.

  • Get an understanding from your client in advance about the purpose and desired outcome of the meeting to set the tone and expectations. For example, will it be a conversation about what the family would like their legacy to look like with each participant allowed to have a say? Or will your client share their own legacy plan without opening it up for discussion?

  • If multiple generations are involved, there are two important considerations to keep in mind: time constraints and generational differences in interests. While planning for the family conversation, ask whether your client will be open to all family member ideas about what they want to support, how they plan to handle any disagreements, and how decisions will be made.

Navigating the multigenerational legacy conversation.

several generations of family members meeting to discuss finances in livingroomDuring a family meeting, clients don’t just share the logistics for what will happen after they are gone, but most importantly share the why behind their legacy plan. Clients discuss what they want to leave behind, what they want to be remembered for, and their vision for making a difference – this is the heart behind their plan.

To help facilitate these conversions, consider including the following meeting topics:

  • Share core values and how these may be instilled in the younger generations
  • Storytelling about family history and traditions
  • Discuss passions, personal motivations, and key life lessons
  • Common goals, priorities, and visions for the future shared amongst family members
  • Charitable gifts that have already been included in their estate plan so that there are not any surprises when loved ones don’t inherit all of the assets

Estate planning across generations.

Estate planning is a large piece of the legacy planning puzzle. When it comes to estate planning, be mindful that one size does not fit all from generation to generation. The ways that different generations communicate and think about money has changed over time. For example, Baby Boomers typically leave all their assets to their surviving spouse, and when both are gone, assets go to their children in even shares. Whereas Gen X are more likely to designate assets to favorite people and causes and revise their estate plans as needed when those favorites change.

The modern generations are yet again vastly different, with thoughts and concerns about wealth reflecting the current times. With more diverse households, today’s family trees can have more complex twists and turns to them: multiple marriages; unmarried partners; blended families; and more. During an initial client meeting, it is beneficial to sketch out the client’s family tree so that they can ensure that no one is unintentionally left out of final documents.

In situations where your client is intentionally disinheriting a loved one, meaning the person will not inherit from the client’s estate, encourage your client to give or leave an explanation for that person. Disinherited people are often left to wonder about the validity of their memories and of their relationship with the deceased. Prepare your client to have answers for those who they do not include in their estate plan to help alleviate this.

Outcomes of legacy conversations.

The intention of a legacy conversation is to help your client execute the vision for their future, as well as to deepen the personal connection that you have with your clients. A successful legacy conversation may result in the following outcomes:

  • Your client is on a path to fulfill their legacy
  • Your client-advisor relationship is enhanced, as well as the client family relationship when family is involved
  • Your client may want to create a legacy plan, giving plan, or family mission with their loved ones
  • The next generation is prepared in a variety of ways
  • Ongoing meaningful conversations with your client and their families

Starting legacy conversations is just the beginning, and we’re here to help. The American Heart Association’s Professional Advisor Network offers a team of advisors and free resources to help you navigate charitable planning solutions with your clients. Visit www.heart.org/advisor to learn more.