My wife and I stepped out of the car, stretching our legs after the long trip. We walked through gravel and grass in the late afternoon sun, taking our seats before a wooden stage framed by a rustic old barn. A beautifully restored 1938 Business Coupe gleamed beside the stage; music played softly. A few minutes later, we stood and enjoyed a wonderful wedding ceremony for one of Brooke’s close friends.
The ceremony was intimate, emotional, and well done. Later, after an excellent dinner, we heard from the family and the new couple. Having been to many weddings, I fully expected cheesy jokes, nervous fumblings, and the classic well-wishings and next-chapters.
I did not expect what was to follow.
Everyone who stood up was incredible. The brother of the bride made us belly laugh with his well-spoken humor as he emceed the event. The first set of parents were another step beyond–witty, loving, teasing, and tear-inducing with their sincerity and comedic relief. They distilled decades of their own successful marriage into cute adages (“‘We’ always comes before ‘I’ in the word ‘wedding’”; “the secret to a perfect marriage is still a secret”, etc.). They told hilarious stories about their first impressions of the bride and embarrassing childhood stories that left us crying and gasping for breath.
Afterwards, the couple stood up and thanked everyone for celebrating (with) them on their special day. They also thanked their parents for their emotional and financial support–without them, the wedding as it was could never have been possible. It made my financial planner’s heart sing, hearing how their parents had the forethought to prepare and set aside enough to bring the event to life. It would create memories that would last a lifetime for guests and participants alike. Money may not always buy happiness, but in this instance it sure seemed to magnify the happiness of the moment.
But that wasn’t why I wrote this.
The other set of parents were last to speak. By this time, everyone else’s charisma and side-splitting humor beforehand were a tough act to follow.
The mother stood up. She paused, cleared her throat, and accidentally stood too close to the speaker, sending sharp feedback across the gathering. We all winced. Here we go, I thought.
Little did I know.
She asked to take a moment to reflect on those who weren’t there to celebrate, particularly the bride’s grandfather. She asked for our patience as she told a story about the bride (I will refer to her as Lisa to keep her identity private) and her grandfather.
At Christmas time, a four year old Lisa noticed her grandfather didn’t have as many presents under the tree as everyone else. Lisa asked if they could wrap one more present for him so he wouldn’t feel left out. Touched by Lisa’s kindness, her mother agreed and Lisa ran to the kitchen.
She came back with a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Her mother laughed; Grandpa and Lisa both enjoyed eating macaroni and cheese together. Opening the “gift”, Lisa’s grandfather absolutely loved it. He asked if Lisa would share it with him, which she did.
A tradition was thus born. For every birthday, Christmas, or special occasion that warranted a gift, Lisa and her grandfather would get each other a box of Kraft mac and cheese. Later on, they would always eat it together. Lisa’s mother described how close they became and stayed, even as Lisa grew up.
When Lisa was a young teenager, Kraft offered a special promotion; they asked customers to send their memories and pictures of Kraft mac and cheese. Kraft would choose finalists and feature their picture and story on the mac and cheese boxes as a limited edition release.
Grandpa submitted their story, which was unsurprisingly selected. Lisa’s grandfather surprised her with the box, featuring little Lisa as a four year old in her pajamas with her Grandpa. It was an amazing, thoughtful gift that Lisa loved. Kraft sent him an extra box, which he never ate. It would sit on his desk for the next decade.
Even after she left for college, they would send each other boxes for birthdays, holidays, and special occasions. Whenever she came home, they would be sure to get together. Lisa would share stories and college adventures with him over a bowl of their macaroni.
A few months before Lisa graduated college, her grandfather wrapped an entire case of mac and cheese for her (Graduating from college is a big deal, he explained). He confided in Lisa’s mother that he would one day give Lisa not one, but two cases when she got married.
Lisa’s mother had to stop at this point. Her eyes filled with tears, she told us how Lisa’s grandfather passed away suddenly, just before her college graduation. Lisa was devastated.
The case was waiting for her when she came home, along with a letter from him.
At this point in the story, Lisa’s father came forward with a large bag. Inside the bag were two cases of Kraft mac and cheese. Lisa’s mother also gave the couple two bowls, complete with pictures of Lisa and her grandfather enjoying their special tradition through the years. Lisa’s parents finished by saying it was time to pass the torch to someone else, and that they were grateful Lisa had found someone so special to share the tradition with.
The story left even the catering team in tears. It struck me as a beautiful story of human connection, but it was also a wonderful reminder about what it means to leave a legacy.
In my line of work, I meet with clients and talk about how they want their own legacy to shape the lives of those they care about. We discuss how to ensure the people and causes they care about are positively impacted by their wealth. We discuss where and how their assets should be passed on, how a business might be structured to ensure continuity, or how to create intergenerational wealth that allows their children to benefit while still remaining self-sufficient and characterized by the values that led their parents to success.
In many of these meetings, family concerns center almost too much on the money. I once heard it summarized that your legacy doesn’t end when your money is gone; it ends when people stop talking about you. I submit that your legacy ends when those things end…and when people stop being inspired by the things you did, whether they know it or not.
Lisa’s grandfather may be gone, but his legacy continues. His story will be talked about in that family for generations. Beyond that, during that lovely wedding his legacy spread to me and all the people gathered to celebrate Lisa. It even reverberates to all the people who will hear that story second-hand, including you.
Lisa’s family and friends all evening long celebrated how kind, thoughtful, and relational Lisa is as a human being. She makes friends with everyone she meets through a simple kindness and caring towards others–no doubt thanks in part to her grandfather. His legacy isn’t the passing of wealth. Not “traditional assets kind of wealth”, anyways. His is a legacy of connection.
When we talk about legacy, we have to discuss the people, the ideas, and the actual impact you want to leave–not just the dollar signs, how to avoid taxes, and who gets the house. If there was one takeaway I noticed listening to Lisa’s proud mother, it was that the key to leaving a lasting legacy is intentionality–living a deliberate life with deliberate relationships.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding things about being a financial planner is getting to be a part of those conversations. I will often host family meetings where parents, grandparents, and/or children come together and discuss what their wealth means to each other. It might symbolize a lifetime of hard work and chasing one’s passion, or sacrificing in the moment to secure a future of choice for family. Children may not fully understand what is important to their parents until we sit down together. There may be special causes, wishes for family relationships, and other unique circumstances that need to be discussed while everyone is alive and well.
It can be a bit tense at times when family members disagree, but most of the time people are simply glad these conversations are finally being had. Especially if the foundation of good relationships has already been laid, the conversation is one of celebration and closeness–as one client put it, “the sharing of what’s in our hearts with our children”. As I look back on Lisa’s Grandfather, I have to think he considered his life a life well-lived having been able to share his heart and legacy with Lisa–dollars aside.