Q&A With Legacy Planning Expert Laura Roser

Laura Roser, Paragon Road

By Brian Hart

When people talk about leaving a legacy, it’s often in terms of preserving and passing on financial assets. But what about the intangible assets like wisdom, values and love? How can people ensure that all aspects of their legacies are preserved and passed on? To address this issue, I reached out to Laura Roser, founder of Paragon Road, a boutique consulting firm offering legacy planning services including memoir writing and publishing, ethical wills, reputation management and more. Here’s what she had to say…

BH: First things first – what is legacy planning?

LR: Legacy planning is a structured way to pass on your non-financial assets, such as your wisdom, values, beliefs, vision and so on. We all leave behind a legacy because we have all touched the lives of others. But, most people never consider the kind of legacy they are passing on to their families and the world. That’s where legacy planning comes in. A great legacy doesn’t happen by accident. It has to be structured right so that you can leverage your wisdom, skills, gifts, resources and talents to make an impact. If crafted correctly, your legacy will live on in the hearts of those who loved you and ripple out for generations.

BH: What motivated you to launch Paragon Road and provide legacy planning services?

LR: Several years ago, when I was married, my husband and I would constantly discuss the pros and cons of different estate planning structures. He had a couple kids and we planned on having more. And we wanted to give money to our children, but we were concerned about them becoming entitled or dependent.

So, we discussed matching programs, a family bank or setting up a trust for college. The ideas would go back and forth. Then one day, my husband went to a seminar and found out about a company that claimed to specialize in passing on your wisdom and beliefs to your children.

Wow, we thought, what an incredible idea.

So, we set up a meeting with the company. We showed up at their beautiful office and the receptionist directed us to the conference room and fetched some bottled water. A minute later a well-dressed man sat down and laid a one-page worksheet in front of us. It asked us to list our names, values and future plans for our family. He spent the next 20 minutes trying to sell us whole life insurance.

“But what about this idea of passing on your intellectual assets?” my husband asked.

“That’s what we’re really interested in.”

“Yeah,” the salesperson replied and held up the one-page worksheet. “This is really all we have. We can help you structure the way you give to your heirs so that it is in alignment with the values you list here.”

Since then, I’ve talked with a plethora of estate attorneys, financial planners, personal historians, anthropologists, religious leaders, family counselors and business executives. I’ve studied everything I could get my hands on about character development, legacy planning, storytelling, effectively giving through charitable contributions, and successful family systems.

Through this process, I realized that no one had exactly what my husband and I were after all those years ago. There were bits and pieces, but not a thought out system of creating the kind of personal legacy I wanted to leave behind.

Paragon Road was born. Pulling from my experience as a writer, artist, advertising agency owner and business woman, I compiled a specialized legacy creation team and together we have designed a step-by-step process of how to build an effective legacy.

BH: Here at Flackable we stress to clients the importance of building a positive and impactful digital footprint. What are your best tips for building a digital legacy?

LR: With our clients, we focus on two main areas: 1. creating a family legacy, 2. creating a public or community legacy. Some people are very concerned about their public digital presence, while others could care less.

In my opinion, however, your digital presence should be closely managed. This is because privacy isn’t as valued as it used to be and there’s a lot of information online about everyone. This creates some interesting conundrums for the person who values privacy or avoids proactively creating a digital presence. The first, is that people expect you to have an online presence and they will typically do a mini background check on you and, through this process, whatever comes up online will be their impression of you. The second, is that information about you will be posted by others—media outlets, companies, your friends, your employees, your colleagues—and the more aware you are, the better.

My tips for creating a strong digital legacy are:

  1. Decide what kind of presence you want to have and the scope of that presence.
    • Professional—for your business or career.
    • Personal—to connect with family and friends.
    • Community-focused—to improve the world or support a charity or cause you care about.
    • Passion-focused—to spread your love of cooking, art, writing, golf or whatever you’re into.
  1. Understand you are building the online “legend” of yourself. You are creating a narrative about who you are and you must consider how that story is going to evolve. Ask yourself: What do I care about? How do I want to connect with others? What do I want to share?
  1. Develop a legacy purpose statement and vision and make sure your posts, communications, pictures, etc. support that vision. You want to represent a cohesive message online and establish yourself as someone who represents a strong vision.
  1. Monitor your presence and manage what is being said about you. Put your name on Google Alerts and be aware of how you are being represented online by others.

BH: How can people overcome bad press or other reputation issues that can threaten their legacies?

LR: John Wooden said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

It’s good advice… Still, it can be downright demoralizing to read negativity about yourself online. Especially if it isn’t true or blown out of proportion.

I’ve had unpleasant things written about me online (thank goodness, some positive things too!) and people are bound to criticize you if you are doing anything of note. It’s just the nature of things.

The first thing to remember is that emotional snap reactions create problems (and may be documented forever online). Think through your strategy and don’t get wrapped up in the emotion of it. Once a criticism is out in the public, some crazy stuff can happen. So, be careful. What may seem logical to you, could turn into a battle with an angry mob. You have to consider your audience, what is politically correct, and how you will be perceived as saying something (i.e. a female preschool teacher may be able to say she loves children, while a middle-aged male executive may be called a pedophile for saying the same thing).

The second thing to remember is that your character really is more important than your reputation. Sure, you can spend plenty of time building a great online presence, but if it is not an authentic representation, you are inviting problems.

The third thing to remember is that being resilient is better than being robust. In other words, you can try to build a wall around yourself and create a reputation that could never be damaged, but that’s impossible. You’re human. You will make mistakes. People will have opinions. And so, if you plan to do great things, you are going to attract criticism. Your ability to respond, think ahead and adapt is the most important factor in repairing a reputation that has been tarnished.

When dealing with criticism, it really depends on the circumstances. There is not a canned response.

  • Sometimes you need to ignore the criticism.
  • Sometimes negativity needs to be buried with other content.
  • Sometimes you need to clear up a misconception.
  • Sometimes you need to apologize and change your ways.
  • Sometimes you need to sue for libel.

I could go on for quite a while about this topic. So, I’ll leave it at that for now. If you want to have another interview that goes into depth on crisis management, I’d be happy to expand.

BH: What are the most common mistakes people make when planning their legacies?

LR: The first most common mistake is that people don’t plan their legacies at all. They simply don’t think about it. This is a major tragedy, especially if they have children or loved ones their wisdom can help. There have been studies that have found that children who know about their family history and parents’ background (including stories of success and struggle), the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believe their families function. Creating family goals, a vision, principles, and a forum for sharing wisdom is one of the most transformational things you can do for your children.

The second most common mistake is that people focus on achieving, but not necessarily what it means. So, maybe you’ve built a successful business and it’s enabled you to travel, buy nice things, support your family, etc., but, there is a certain point where you may ask yourself, “What is this all for?” Creating a legacy plan provides clarity. It helps you to gain perspective, serve those you love, and get to the core of what is meaningful to you.

The third most common mistake is waiting too long. Your legacy is important no matter your age. Whether you’re 25 or 85, you have valuable things to share. But, the sooner you can start, the better. If you start young, you have the distinct benefit of purposefully building your legacy and starting from a place of meaning. If you choose to have children, you will also have a much greater impact on their lives when you start young. And, unfortunately, you never know what is going to happen. You could live for decades more or you could get hit by a bus or get cancer or Alzheimer’s. It’s best start your legacy now—whatever age that may be. If you’re older or your kids are older, don’t worry, not all is lost. There are great benefits then as well.

BH: Is legacy planning only for the rich and/or famous? If not, what are some of the ways it can benefit the average person?

LR: Legacy planning is beneficial for everyone. Your legacy is your impact on those you care about. It’s about working toward something that is meaningful to you, building a strong character, sharing your stories and wisdom with your loved ones and documenting it in a way that will most bless their lives. If you are rich or famous, you have extra considerations, but, certainly, the core of legacy planning is for anyone who has someone they love.

Laura A. Roser is the founder and CEO of Paragon Road, the #1 authority in meaning legacy planning. For more information about legacy planning, visit www.paragonroad.com.