Your Legacy

by Azriela Jaffe

When asked, entrepreneurial parents will often assert that they are working hard to have something of value to pass along to their children, whether it be a family business the children can make a career in, the financial means to send their children to college, or even enough wealth to set them up in life so that they won't have to worry about money.

We can witness tangible transfer of material goods from successful entrepreneurial parents to their children, but what about what we can't so easily see? Money comes and goes, and material wealth that is given to the children can be squandered or lost in an economic recession or hard financial times in a family because of one crisis or another.

I'm even more interested in the emotional legacy that an entrepreneurial parent may leave behind when they die -- that which will not disappear depending on the actions of Alan Greenspan, that which does not depend on whether the stock market is doing well, or venture capitalists are investing in dot-coms, or even whether the adult child turns out to be skilled in business, or not.

What did the entrepreneurial parent teach his or her children before he died? What life lessons can the children learn from the way that their parent conducted himself in business and in the community? Have they learned resiliency from watching their entrepreneurial parent bounce back from the trials of business?

Are they young adults with high self-esteem and the deep and unyielding knowledge that their mom and/or dad loved them for who they were? Were they taught to follow their dreams, but responsibly? Were they shown the importance of making a positive difference to customers and employees and the community? Do they understand what it took to create a successful business -- the sacrifices made for family, the emotional commitment it required?

There is a beautiful tradition in the Jewish religion of leaving behind an "ethical will." Written before one dies, a parent writes his or her thoughts on the deeper issues of life, to give to the children upon his or her death. Beyond who gets what material goods, the parent expresses his or her life philosophies, wishes for their children, loving thoughts about their loved ones, and reflections on the most significant lessons they have learned in life.

Many Jews write a new ethical will from time to time, as their children age and their thoughts about life change. Others write one that stays hidden in a safe deposit box or entrusted with a spouse for years. So often, when a parent dies, we discover that much of their life was a mystery to us -- what they thought and felt, why they did what they did, what was important to them, what they believed and felt about us that we can use in our life as we grow older, and so on.

It seems to me that beyond the material wealth that an entrepreneur might hope to accumulate for his or her family, passing along a clearer understanding of who he or she was and hoped to be, would be an enormous gift to his or her children.

Tom Meehan of Sparta, New Jersey understands the urgency of not allowing our loved ones to die without the opportunity to know who they were, and to be able to tell generations to follow. After retiring in 1998 as an Accountant with 32 years of experience in that field, he decided to turn his Videography hobby into a Small Business Enterprise that is making a positive difference for senior citizens.

He took a part time job as a Salesman with the "ADT Security Alarm" Company. Many of his customers wanted him to videotape their personal property after installing the Alarm Systems in case of fires, floods, burglaries and so on. When his clients requested an "Audio Voiceover " with biographical commentary regarding the significance and history of their most valuable personal possessions, an idea for a small business was born.

Using college students majoring in Communication Arts and Broadcast Journalism at local universities to conduct the interviews, and with him behind the camera, senior citizens hire Tom's firm to give their loved ones a living biography --personal statements of family values and philosophies of living which can be passed down to their future generations to come. Most of his clients come from Senior Citizens in the local area who have learned of his service from networking with other seniors, and they wish to videotape their memoirs to be handed down to their grandchildren and loved ones.

What a lovely holiday present this would be. (Contact info - email or call (973)398-7358. And if you don't happen to live close enough to Tom's business, haven't you a family video camera someplace in the house that you could drag out to interview your elderly relatives at the next holiday gathering?

We never know when our time on earth will end. Although noble to work most of our days so that we can accumulate material wealth for our families, nothing will probably be treasured more than the priceless gift of allowing your children to know who you are and what your life stood for, before you are unable to tell them any more. Fifty years from now, you may have a grandchild who makes a living using that antique desk that served you so well in the years you slaved away at it for your business.

And that same child may wonder, "who was the man or woman who used this same desk two generations ago, and what could they teach me now about succeeding in my life? Your picture hanging on the wall won't tell them.

Azriela Jaffe is the author of several books including Honey, I Want to Start my Own Business, A Planning Guide for Couples (Harper Business 1996), and Let's Go Into Business Together, Eight Secrets for Successful Business Partnering (Avon Books 1998) and Starting from No, Ten Strategies to Overcome Your Fear of Rejection and Succeed in Business (Dearborn, April 1999). Also, check out her newly released, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beating Debt. Check out her books at

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