Someone once remarked to the famed Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, that his father hadn’t left him much when he had died. Rayburn was quick to correct this misconception. My father, he said, “gave me my untarnished name.”
Harry Truman would say something similar to his own daughter. The question today is: What are you leaving to your children?
Yes, you work hard. Yes, you’ve put some money aside. You may even cover those life insurance premiums. Perhaps you’re really on top of it, and you and your spouse have an updated will which not only leaves your kids some assets, but instructions for their care. This is all well and good.
But this will be poverty compared to what Rayburn’s father left his son and what Truman left his daughter Margaret. What matters is that you leave your kids a legacy of a good life. Of character. Of living up to what you say. That you showed them how to provide for themselves, as opposed to slaving away to try to put together some trust fund that can do it for them. Forget a family cottage or lake house deed, and focus instead on some words, some meaningful conversations that they would never sell or trade for all the money in the world.
Leave them no debts—financial, emotional, ethnical, reputational, whatever. Instead, leave them a name that means something. Make them part of a family that had traditions, expectations, a sense of duty and obligation. Make them somebody. That’s the ultimate gift. And better yet, it can never be taxed or confiscated.