Life After Full-time Work Blog

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#207 What Will Be Your Emotional Legacy?

It’s how people will remember you, after you pass


Most of what I write tends to be about financial stuff. As I’ve also often said, there’s a lot more to life than money. How does that relate to legacies?

We spend a lot of time figuring out who should get what, after we pass. That’s our financial legacy. It’s nice if we have enough to make this worth spending time on. But all of us, whatever our wealth, have an emotional legacy that we leave. It’s the way people remember us.

I was prompted to think about this by something Dr Jon Glass said when we interviewed him (on Episode No. 6 of our podcasts — see the top line of this page). He mentioned a quote by Cicero, a Roman philosopher (and much more), who lived around the time of Julius Caesar. I looked up the quote. Cicero said: “Every man can tell how many goats or sheep he possesses, but not how many friends.” Yes, we measure our material wealth, but we rarely think about our emotional wealth.

And, not being measurable, our emotional legacy is not limited. No matter how highly it is valued by any one survivor, it doesn’t reduce what we can leave to others. On the other hand, it can also be negative, if people think poorly of us. Wouldn’t that be a shame!

As a personal framework for thinking about this, I also remember two frameworks I’ve mentioned before. One is Dr Ed Jacobson’s “life’s abundance portfolio,” based on family and friends, work and play, physical and mental health – and yes, money. I’ve suggested in many places that you might use this framework to assess your own life. The other is Dr Stephen Covey’s idea of thinking about what you’d like to have people say at your memorial service; specifically, a family member, a friend, a work colleague, a member of some service organization that you belonged to.

How have you lived your life? What values have you embodied? Have you been a good example, a mentor, to others? Have you influenced their lives for the better? Have you made an emotional contribution to their existence? Will they remember you with gratitude, and be happy that they knew you? It doesn’t have to be something big and deep. Maybe it’s just something small and memorable that causes a smile of pleasure when remembered, a shared experience that brought joy to all involved, even something stupid that you did that brings an affectionate memory. As the saying goes, “Where there’s laughter, there’s love.” A friend told me that, as she gathered together old photographs, it was a heartwarming reminder to see how her children were always laughing when they were with their grandparents. For my part, I treasure a photograph of my father-in-law with his two sons-in-law, singing Christmas carols together – it’s the only photo we can find of just the three of us.

It’s never too late to start behaving personally and interacting with others in a way that will trigger positive emotional memories. Sure, there’ll be sadness too, but time will reduce it – time will reduce your emotional legacy much less. And, except perhaps for direct beneficiaries of the very wealthy, your emotional legacy will outlast your financial legacy.

A friend suggested to me that it’s the closest you’ll get to immortality on this earth.


On a personal note … As I put this together as a blog post, I have just Zoomed into a memorial service for a dear, dear friend who passed away unexpectedly. We knew each other since we met at school at the age of 10, and we stayed in touch as our lives went along different paths. We were planning, with another school friend, to meet in Scotland to celebrate our birthdays later this year — as we jointly celebrated past birthdays in recent years. God bless you, Kishen — the emotional legacy you have left to family and friends brings joy and smiles and tears.



While it’s easy to get advice on your financial legacy, your emotional legacy is typically much less considered. Yet, unlike your finances, it has no limit, and can be spread widely, bringing much joy after you’ve departed.



I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.

6 Responses to “#207 What Will Be Your Emotional Legacy?”

  1. Richard Bruce Austin says:

    A very touching post. And a worthwhile reminder of where the true source of richness lies. Thanks for the thoughts.

  2. Cindy Deere says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this, Don! So very important and in so many ways much more important than a financial legacy! Well said!

  3. KC says:

    Beautifully written and as with so many of your posts, thought-provoking. And I am truly sorry to hear of the loss of your dear friend.

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