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The Gift of Compassion – Creating a Family Legacy of Giving

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

The Black Resilience in Colorado (BRIC) Fund Blog features the unique voices and perspectives of people who make up the diverse fabric of the Colorado community who are engaged in Black philanthropy. It's a platform to share their comments and opinions on how people in the Black community give back, discuss historical and current challenges, and illustrate Black resilience. This month, Michelle Adams, an estate planning attorney, discusses the valuable gift of compassion and the steps to build a family legacy of giving.


A long-lasting family history is formed by embracing ancestry, maintaining traditions, and creating a legacy that will last for generations. As we know, history continually evolves, and we all have an opportunity to contribute to it - so what we do today builds for tomorrow. As an estate planning attorney, I encourage parents and individuals to think of tangible and intangible gifts they can give to their loved ones. But more importantly, how to intentionally create a legacy that can enrich family bonds and strengthen community ties. I view my work as more than a job but a responsibility I hold dear, to help families be more vital and leave a lasting legacy. This viewpoint is not only linked to what I see daily in my work but rooted in the values, lessons, and traditions my family passed on and instilled in me to make a difference.

Without question, we all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for them. Most of us probably live by the adage, “To whom much is given, much is required.” Because of that, we seek to do more and to acquire more. Individuals plan for college and their career path, but I rarely see them creating a vision plan for their family. This action step is just as critical, so you have years to implement and build upon. Remember that regardless of your phase of life, it is never too late to develop a plan. Begin by asking yourself, as a family, what do we want to achieve, what issues are important to us, how do we want to contribute to our home and community, and what family story do we want to be shared? The answers to these questions are essential in creating a family legacy.

Step One – Model and Teach Youth Valuable Lessons

Developing compassion, empathy, and an understanding of the importance of giving to others begins at home. The presence of compassion in the home is necessary for children and other family members to develop compassion for others. It is seen in the interactions between family members and our actions to support each other. These powerful examples illustrate to young people how to be contributing members of the family that, regardless of age, they can assist in keeping the home together. It’s about understanding roles and responsibilities – everyone has a role, and everyone has a responsibility. Young children can help their parents and grandparents by learning to sweep or dust, washing dishes, or cleaning a room. These early valuable lessons shape and mold young people into caring and responsible individuals. Like the houses they live in, their surrounding community is also home. So, as they grow to know the responsibility of “taking care of home,” their awareness and contributions expand to make a community impact. This step is meant to “train up a child in the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not depart from it"(Proverbs 22.6).

Step Two – Identify Current Family Wealth and What to Give

Many people think of wealth as financial stability and status. However, we must reframe how we think about generational wealth because it’s more than just having money. Financial wealth is unequal and doesn’t determine one’s worth because people have many other valuable gifts to share. As such, the idea of wealth should encompass all the tangible and intangible things you and your family have been blessed with that are invaluable - time, talent, treasure, testimony, and (social) ties. Also, think about what philanthropy means to you. Does it entail being able to give thousands of dollars a year to worthwhile causes? When you hear the word philanthropist, do you envision celebrities, athletes, and tech gurus simply because they are visible? I think many people hold this distorted view when philanthropists are ordinary people who give what they can, how they can every day because they love humankind – that is the very definition of philanthropy. So, think about your collective family wealth and the best ways to contribute to your community’s future growth and well-being.

Step Three - Establish Family Traditions of Giving Together

Desmond Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Community engagements and activities are extra meaningful when done with loved ones. Encourage and empower young people to become advocates for themselves, others, and society by providing opportunities for the family to discuss community issues and volunteer opportunities together. The benefit of volunteering together with your children is two-fold in developing socially conscious individuals who are empathetic to human needs while also strengthening family connections. It’s vital not to shelter young people but to expose them in a manner that teaches them and shows the value of being an active community member. Families can do together, such as raking leaves or shoveling snow for an older adult, creating food baskets, collecting school supplies, or sorting and donating clothing or toys. Afterward, families can discuss the impact they made together, how each member felt, and the lessons learned. Over time, youth who volunteer build collaboration, leadership, communication, problem-solving, and organizational skills.

Step Four – Act to Solidify the Family Legacy

A. Formally document family history, traditions, and community issues of significance and importance.

B. Establish a private family foundation, which is set up by a family, funded with the family’s assets, and often run by family members who can also participate in its charitable grantmaking.

C. Establish a donor-advised fund (DAF) to provide long-term support to select community nonprofits. A DAF is an excellent way to give back as you don’t have to worry about the administrative and legal requirements that come with a private foundation, while

retaining the ability to recommend grants to your favorite charitable organizations.

D. Create a Will or a Trust to direct how your assets will be distributed at the end of one’s life. Remember that a Will must be admitted to probate to determine who will settle the estate, name guardians for minor children, and identify beneficiaries – this is why everyone needs to understand how to maintain family wishes and legacy. A Trust provides additional protection and control over how and when assets are distributed and, if set up correctly, may help you avoid the probate process.

E. As we enter the season of giving, think of one community service project to do as a family. If this is not an ongoing tradition, use this experience as a blueprint to create a family legacy of giving. Also, consider how you model compassion for others.

F. Hold yourself and other family members accountable for maintaining and passing on the family legacy.

The BRIC Fund is rooted in history, culture and Black philanthropy. More importantly, it promotes owning and telling our own story. During the remaining days in October and Family History Month, think about your story, your giving, and the legacy you want to leave. Take the steps to contribute to building a strong community for future generations.

A professional portrait of a black woman in a white blazer
Michelle Adams

More About Michelle Adams:

Michelle Adams is a seasoned attorney, speaker, coach, and author. She is the founder of Hello Legacy, a training and personal development company, and the Law Office of Michelle Adams, LLC, where she helps families in estate planning, elder law, special needs planning, and family legacy planning.


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