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Legal-Ease: An Attorney’s Perspective: What Is a Lasting Legacy?

By December 20, 2019 February 4th, 2020 No Comments

Judd Matsunaga, Esq.

At this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, I found out that the Thanksgiving turkey stuffing my sister had prepared was from a recipe that Grandpa had made up some decades ago. It reminded me of some tamale pie we enjoyed at another family gathering that my cousin had made from a recipe handed down from grandma.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a “legacy” is something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past. It means putting a stamp on the future and making a contribution to future generations. Intentional or not, families all over town are passing down “legacies” to their children and grandchildren.

To be clear, all legacies aren’t as tasty as the family recipes mentioned above.

Some common examples of legacy are:

  • She left us a legacy of a million dollars.
  • He left his children a legacy of love and respect.
  • The war left a legacy of pain and suffering.
  • Her artistic legacy lives on through her children.

As you can see from the above examples, a legacy can be very good to very bad — and everywhere in between. For example, we have all seen the TV news reports where some families leave legacies of drug abuse, alcoholism and domestic abuse. You see, it all depends on how we live our lives.

There are parents who have blessed their children with greatness and parents who have ruined their children’s fragile minds and hearts. What we do affects others. Our lives have the power to create good or provide for evil. For the sake of the children, i.e., kodomo no tame ni, it is important that we choose to do good.

Wealthier people can create a charitable foundation or a trust that provides ongoing distributions, so the gift has more lasting value. For example, you can endow a scholarship to your alma mater for future students. If you were fortunate enough to attend UCLA, you might remember walking into Ackerman Union, Powell Library or Royce Hall.

But that is not the kind of legacy we are talking about. We are talking about legacies that make life better for those who come after us, not about our own fame or recognition, but about helping others. Your legacy is not about what you acquire — it is about what you leave behind. It’s not what we leave FOR others that matters; it’s what we leave IN them that matters most.

For most of us, passing down your family’s history to your children and grandchildren is the best way to preserve a lasting legacy. Take the time to sit down with your children and grandchildren. Teach them about your childhood, your parents’ and grandparents’ lives. Hopefully, each generation will have an appreciation for the family’s history and legacy.

“But Judd, I don’t have any children or grandchildren.” Well, you can still leave a positive legacy by supporting organizations and causes that are important to you. Think of it this way: Your passions and interests and causes, if not acted upon, if merely cared about, are worthless. It is an act of responsibility to leave a positive legacy.

To my knowledge, there are several organizations in the Japanese American community dedicated to preserving our legacy for future generations. For the past 30 years, the Go for Broke National Education Center (www.goforbroke.org) has educated the public on equality and justice through the courageous and patriotic example set forth by the Japanese American World War II veterans.

Its Mission: To educate and inspire character and equality through the virtue and valor of our World War II American veterans of Japanese ancestry. By supporting GFBNEC, you enable us to honor their legacy and empower others to continue to take action in following their same spirit.

Another organization that is dedicated to preserving the Japanese American legacy is the Manzanar Committee (www.manzanarcommittee.org). “We need to teach the history of evacuation and place it in historical perspective so that the Sansei may have the necessary tools to protect themselves against discrimination and racism, which are inherent in American society.”

Its Mission: The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II, and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger.

Last (but certainly not least), the Japanese American Citizens League (www. jacl.org) is a national organization whose ongoing mission is to secure and maintain the civil rights of Japanese Americans and all others who are victimized by injustice and bigotry. The leaders and members of the JACL also work to promote cultural, educational and social values and preserve the heritage and legacy of the Japanese American community.

The JACL publishes the Pacific Citizen newspaper (www.pacificcitizen.org), which is committed to delivering the most incisive coverage of important APA stories that are often ignored by other media outlets. Said Allison Haramoto, executive editor of the Pacific Citizen, “Especially for our elders, it’s so important to preserve their stories, ensure that they are taken care of, because we owe so much to what they have endured in order for us to have the life we have today.”

Judd Matsunaga is the founding attorney of Elder Law Services of California, a law firm that specializes in Medi-Cal Planning, Estate Planning and Probate. He can be contacted at (310) 348-2995 or judd@elderlawcalifornia.com. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Pacific Citizen or JACL. The information presented does not constitute legal or tax advice and should not be treated as such.