How to Create a Lasting Legacy

A woman sits with her two daughters.

Having an impact requires preparation, sharing values, and open communication. Here, specialists from Wells Fargo Private Bank share stories of families who did it right.

With means comes the opportunity to create legacies that can last across generations. Many people have aspirations to make a positive impact—such as implementing a business idea that solves a critical problem or using wealth to help improve the world through causes that are important to them. Bringing those dreams to life can take much effort. 

Defining what kind of impact you want to make and creating a plan for achieving it often involves candid family conversations about wealth, giving, and succession. Here, specialists from Wells Fargo Private Bank outline four aspects to consider when you plan your lasting legacy. They also share stories of families they helped draft meaningful legacy plans.

Clearly define what “leaving a legacy” means to you

Bob Buchanan, Managing Director of Wealth Planning at Wells Fargo Private Bank, says clearly defining what legacy means to you and your family should be the first step of your plan. Ask yourself: Is it about philanthropy, job creation, helping the community, or the family’s reputation? Or is it all of the above, or something else?

Buchanan says a great example of this comes from a client who grew the company he inherited from his father.

When that client started thinking about retirement, he and his wife initially told Buchanan they’d be happy to sell the business that he had grown. But in the course of the planning process, they reconsidered.

“We found through the planning process that maybe they would not be happy to sell,” Buchanan says. “They identified that legacy—the business—is really much more important than they had first estimated.”

The change of heart happened while discussing the broader ideas of what a legacy can be. “The client thought about legacy within the company, legacy with customers, legacy in the community,” Buchanan says. “He realized his goal was not about philanthropic legacy, but about preserving the legacy of their family name in the place where they and their children live.”

Have open conversations with your family

Suzanne Mansell, Family Dynamics Consultant at Wells Fargo Private Bank, uses the example of a large number of family members who shared ownership in a business. But some of the owners/family members in that large group felt left out and uninformed about operations.

“They wanted to learn more,” Mansell says. “But because there wasn’t transparency, it was causing a breakdown of trust and communication within the family.”

To address the problem, they made a significant change to address legacy planning specifically.

“They created a family council to talk the business through in detail,” Mansell says. “As a result, they’re beginning to feel more informed, more empowered, including getting on the same page around what they want to do with their assets. They want to explore philanthropy more substantively as well.” (Learn more about how to have meaningful family discussions about family wealth planning.)

Find common ground—and common values

Beth Renner, Managing Director, National Director of Philanthropic Services for Wells Fargo Wealth Management, worked with a family who ran a business but also had a long-established family foundation engaged in philanthropy, which was controlled by the heads of the family.

When the father began to experience health problems that could hamper his ability to run the business and foundation, Renner encouraged him to start engaging the next generation.

“We made the recommendation he bring his son into the conversation,” Renner says. She encouraged them each to speak openly about their values and goals.

“It was reaffirming the values of the father and the son while looking for ways they overlap,” she says. “That allowed the father and son to have some really deep discussions about what each prizes the most. And that became the anchor for their family foundation.”

Collaborate with your advisors

In all of these cases, a key part of the process was to have candid conversations—not only with your family but with your team of advisors as well. Collaboration is one way you can transform your advisors from individuals providing a service to professionals who anticipate your needs and work together to help you strive for your financial objectives. Bringing together key parties like your team at The Private Bank with your legal and tax advisors and being clear about your vision and circumstances can help you create a plan for making the impact you desire.