the legacy we leave behind mother daughter holding hands

When you think about inheritance what visions come to mind? Jewelry, bank accounts, prized possessions, homes and properties? Material objects that you can wear, hold and even live in, long after someone has died.

My grandmother placed tremendous importance on the money she intended to pass on to her children. In her final years she refused to go to a nursing home, not only because she feared outliving her money, but also because she didn’t want to use all the money before she died.

I’ve often thought about inheritance this way. My children are still quite small, but when I think about leaving this Earth, I envision the large sum of money I hope to leave them.

A few years ago my husband and I sat with a lawyer and discussed the plans for our estate. We talked at length about ensuring our boys are responsible enough to handle the money we give to them. We also explored the possibility of creating an endowment for our alma mater.

During this conversation and the ones that followed we talked about the dollars and cents that make up our net worth. The accumulation of assets we have created over the last twenty fives years of our lives.

But as I’ve watched my mom struggle with medical issues over this past month I’ve come to realize that money is just one aspect of the inheritance we each leave behind.

As I sat beside my mother’s bed on the night of her second surgery tears filled my eyes. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, how much she means to me and above all else what an incredible mother she has been throughout my lifetime.

I could care less about the rings on her fingers or the number of commas that make up her net worth. She has set an amazing example of what it means to be a good human. No matter how mean others have been, no matter how frustrated I get with family members or friends my mom has always taught me to pause, step back and try my best to put myself in other people’s shoes.

She’s taught me to widen my perspective of the world and to try my best to see situations from the vantage point of someone else. Above all else she has taught me to be compassionate, civil and kind.

Throughout my youth I was guided by my mind. I closed myself off to experiences. I failed to understand the plight of others. Quite frankly I was torn between a lack of self confidence and thinking quite highly of myself all at the same time.

My mom was always there to ground me. She acknowledged my successes, while simultaneously teaching me to reset my view of myself and those around me.

My mother has an incredible ability to empathize with those who are hurting and to forgive those who have trespassed against her. Through her gentle guidance and teachings I can now do the same.

When you leave this Earth what mark do you want to place upon it? What matters most is not the value of your bank accounts, but rather the way you behaved, the ideas you shared, the smiles you bestowed upon those who came into your presence and the kindness you shared.

In the world of personal finance we talk a lot about the financial lessons we wish to teach our children. For example, we want our kids to stay out of debt, save a large portion of their income, learn to delay gratification and spend mindfully.

But in our household we also talk about others who may struggle to earn and save. We discuss the importance of education, but we also talk a lot about the head start our children have already gotten in life. We talk about helping others, reaching out a hand, cheering for our friend’s successes and above all else being understanding and kind.

When our lives come to an end we should not be defined by the amount of money we have saved. The value of our net worth and number of properties we own means little to nothing if we have been inhumane.

I hope my mom recovers from this illness and goes on to live a very, long and healthy life. At this point it is too soon to know what might happen, but I know one thing for sure…

My mom has passed on a wealth of kindness and compassion. She may not have a lot of treasures to pass down, but the legacy she will leave behind is worth more to me than anything money can buy.