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Insignificance of Time: Leaving a Legacy

I was contemplating the concept of time this week as I worked with my kids.  Now this is not the first time I have written about time on this blog.  In the past I’ve noted it is the most valuable commodity in existence.  I’ve also written about how things change quickly.  But this post is a bit different.  Today we’re going to talk about the insignificance of time and legacy.

Our Impact on the Future of Society

We as humans have a tendency to think of our impact and place in society as significant.  People ache and agonize over the decisions we make as if they will have ramifications forever.  We fear our failures.  But if we take a step back what does it all mean?

Our Life Span is Not Insignificant in terms of Family

As I contemplate time I start by thinking back to the time of Jesus.  No this will not be a religious sermon, I was just thinking about the concept of the time itself.  I started to think of the generations between me and that era.  Then it hit me, there are probably only 100 generations of my family between myself and that time period.  Moreover, 4 generations are alive currently, or a full 4 percent of those who have come since what we consider on the calendar as 0.    I’d hardly call that an insignificant amount of time.

This led me to one point of view, that my impact on my family line may be large.  After all I represent 1% of the entire direct line for the last 2000 years.  It’s interesting to think of things in this manner, but my mind then drifted further to something else, WW2.

Our Changing Concept of Time

As a kid I remember reading about World War 2 as some distant thing.  Something that happened in another time and place.  To a kid it sounded just as far away as Jesus.  But as I’ve gotten older I came to realize it was not all that long ago.  It was in fact in my grand mothers lifetime.

The Speed of Change and It’s Impact on your Concept of Time

That being said, the reason it seems like such a distant thing is how much the world has changed.  Nothing is like what it was during WW2.   Country alliances are different, Computers and phones are common place, commercial air travel and even the national highway system have all come into being since that time.

Even more whole types of jobs have arisen and disappeared in that period.  I’ve written a bit about this before but take my grand mother.  Her first job was a phone operator.  She literally answered the phone at a telephone company and then plugged a chord into another line to connect the call.  Digital switching long since made any similar type jobs long since extinct, even before I graced this planet almost 40 years ago.  

Nothing is Permanent

In many ways, nothing is permanent.  30 years ago my neighborhood was the only one standing in my area.  70 years ago my neighborhood was a giant woods with one house miles from here.  300 years ago the first settlers to this area put in a Friends Meeting House not far from where I live.  300 years from now my home will likely not be here.

In fact, 300 years from now it is unlikely anyone will even remember me.  Think about it.  Do you know the names of your great grand parent’s parents?  Unless you are a genealogist I’m guessing not.  I didn’t until I developed an interest for such things and even then I still can’t tell you that much about just 150 years ago, let alone 300.

Value of a Legacy given Impermanence

Which led me to the question of the value of leaving a legacy to ones kids. I hear that term thrown around often.  “I’d like to leave a legacy or concept for my kids.”  For some it’s money and for others it’s a concept.  But the question occurs to me, is it all for not?

For money legacies routine studies show after 3 generations even the super wealthy families tend to return to whence they came.   In fact for those generations where money is given and not earned bad things tend to happen.  Kids waste the money and often their lives.  At 1 and 2 generations you are still alive to instill values along with that money, potentially blunting some of it’s impact.  But after that who knows.  The statistics don’t give a positive indication.

Legacy of those Living

For concept legacies, well if I can’t tell you my relatives name from 300 years ago, I sure can’t tell you his ideas.    Now perhaps it’s more a general concept of ideas.   A family code, but even that I must question when most of us don’t even know our heritage.   This leads me to a different conclusion, perhaps it’s more about that 4% that are living during my lifetime. 

After all that is a significant amount of your overall family line to go back to my first few paragraphs.   That means the point of a legacy really needs to be focused on the people around you now.    Your kids, and perhaps their kids if you live long enough, are the only ones that will likely remember your teachings.  As such any money or concept legacies have a shelf life of at most 3 generations, kind of ties back to the statistics I guess.

The Recipient Defines the Value of the Legacy

As I contemplated a legacy to my kids and perhaps their kids (while realizing I can not impact longer term) I came up with another realization.  The value of that legacy to my kids is not set by myself, but them.    My sons’ personalities, what I’ve taught them about finances, and their relationship with me will define whether they hear me on the concepts.  And the value of any money handed down, no matter what strings are attached via trusts or otherwise, will still ultimately be decided by them not me.  Will they spend it on a fast car and a giant house?  How about education and investing in the next generation?  How will they feel about that money?  Those are all things that will be answered when I’m long gone.

The Legacy I May Receive and How I Feel About It 

I pride myself on having built the majority of what I have without financial help from my family.  As I think about my own potential for inheritance all I personally want is for my parents and inlaws to enjoy the money they worked hard for while they are here.  While I can’t guarantee my kids will feel the same way, I’d like to think I will be successful in instilling that same belief.  In which case any inheritance or legacy will be a bonus not an expectation. 

Given that feeling I’ve ultimately decided not to plan for a monetary legacy.  If one happens then my kids will be all the better for it, but either way if I’m successful my kids will be happy knowing myself and my wife enjoyed our time here.    Which I guess means in a way I am instilling a concept in my kids as my legacy.  Do your best to provide for yourself/your family and be pleasantly surprised if/when other sources lend a helping hand.

Do you plan to provide a legacy for your kids?


  1. Joe
    Joe August 30, 2018

    I wonder if this is an American thing. In Asia, people pay more attention to their ancestors. You’re right about the 3 generations, though. That’s about how much impact you can have.
    For my kid, I want to help him graduate college with minimum or no debt. That will be our legacy to him. He can build his own fortune once he’s an adult. Also, I’ll give him my blog. Maybe he can refresh and update the articles. Maybe that will last longer than just oral tradition.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance September 1, 2018

      Cool idea giving him the blog.

  2. Xrayvsn
    Xrayvsn September 2, 2018

    This really is an outstanding perspective and one I have struggled with myself.

    Originally I wanted to leave a monetary legacy for my daughter but then I came across the same studies you mentioned where more than 90% of generational wealth is lost by the 2nd and 3rd generation.

    I certainly don’t want to sacrifice hard and deny myself things to leave a monetary legacy to be squandered away by people who have no idea how it was earned.

    I am trying to leave a knowledge legacy on finance early on. My daughter is 12 and I use the time I drive her to school in the morning to give her snippets of finance such as passive investing. She seems interested so that is a good sign.

    The plan now is to live my golden years as golden as I want and anything left over will be bonus

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance September 2, 2018

      Sounds like we’re of similar minds. We introduced the oldest child to Monopoly over the weekend, let the education begin.

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