When we invest in something, we do not receive immediate gratification or reap the benefits in the present. Instead, we look to the future. We make decisions today that will impact our tomorrows and help future generations. 

A legacy is like an investment. It’s the decisions we make today that affect the future we leave behind after we pass on. For some, a legacy looks like personal property and financial assets. For others, it’s a family business or career success. The legacy we leave may also be something that existed internally, like our character that lives on in our loved ones.

How we choose to define legacy is dependent on what we value most in life. If it’s money, we will live our lives to achieve financial success so that we may leave a legacy of great monetary value. If it’s character, then we will live a life of integrity and honor so that we will leave a legacy of influence.

No matter our values, our legacy is how we are celebrated by the people we care about most for generations to come.

What Is the Definition of Legacy?

From the medieval Latin lēgātia and the Latin lēgātus, a legacy has many meanings.

If you search for our word of the day, you’ll most certainly find a definition like “an amount of money or property left behind in a will” or “a thing handed down by a predecessor.” This gift of property may also be referred to as a bequest.

While there are various ways to view the meaning of a legacy, this is perhaps the most straightforward definition of the term. Our legacy is what our loved ones and family members inherit when we pass away.

Many of the synonyms listed in the thesaurus refer to a physical legacy, such as monetary assets or personal property. It is something that the testator, or someone leaving the legacy, passes down to loved ones when they pass on.

Another way to define legacy is a son or daughter of an alumnus. An individual who is a legacy may have a better chance of admission to a particular college because their parents or relatives attended.

The term legacy may also refer to the world of computing. A legacy in this context refers to an outdated computer system. A legacy system is a software system that is old or outdated but still used by a company. Legacy data is the information that is stored within these outdated computer systems.

Legacy applications and legacy networks also refer to outdated systems that are still in use by companies and businesses.

While these examples of legacy may help explain the dictionary definition of the word, our true legacy is the impact we create on the people we love.

Family photo album.

What Types of Legacies Can We Leave Behind?

From our artistic impacts to the effects we have on our loved ones, these common collocations of legacy point toward the many ways we can create an impact on the people around us.

Artistic Legacy

There are many ways to leave behind an artistic legacy. An artistic legacy may be the way in which a generation or its style is defined, but it can also be a unique worldview that influences viewers of our artwork to create their own masterpieces. 

While this form of legacy has both tangible and intangible qualities, it creates a form of celebration that can be passed down through generations of like-minded creators.

An artist creating art.

Lasting Legacy

We often see the words lasting and legacy used together. This is often in reference to the way our loved ones choose to live their lives with meaning and purpose. It is a desire to leave a lasting legacy through the accomplishments our loved ones achieve throughout their lives and the values, memories, and love they pass down to future generations.

A lasting legacy is something that continues to exist after a loved one passes. It is something that remains ingrained in the hearts and lives of those who knew our loved ones as we celebrate their remarkable lives.

Rich Legacy

A rich legacy or great legacy describes more than material possessions or physical assets. Rich here does not refer to material wealth but a deep and meaningful impact of a life that was rich in purpose.

Leaving a rich legacy means that you positively impacted your loved ones during your time here on Earth. People who leave rich legacies are those who care deeply for others and plant seeds for the future. These remarkable individuals live a life of character and kindness and leave a lasting imprint on the hearts of the people they encounter.

Person holding a plant in their hands.

Cultural Legacy

A cultural legacy is the inheritance of certain cultural traits that we acquire from the context in which we grow up. It is left behind for us by past generations and impacts our day-to-day decisions. We see cultural legacy through belief systems, skills, and values that are passed down.

Leave a Legacy

We often hear the term “leave a legacy” when we are discussing this word. While leaving a legacy may sometimes refer to personal property or a financial gift that is left behind to a loved one, it most often is a reference to a life of influence. To leave a legacy is to leave a lasting imprint on the world through accomplishments and character.

A legacy is meant to outlast you. It is how you will be celebrated even after you pass. Leaving a legacy means you are impacting future generations by the way you lived your life and the decisions you made. Leaving a legacy is about more than yourself. It is about creating a positive future for the people who will come after you.

Wrapping Up

The word legacy means something different to everyone. For some, legacy may refer to material possessions or personal property that is inherited by a family member who passed. For others, legacy refers to a lasting impact and the way they will be remembered for generations to come. Legacy can be career accomplishments, financial assets, or a loved one’s incredible character.

How you define legacy will determine how you spend your life. Ask yourself how you want to be celebrated when you are no longer on Earth. This will help you determine what type of legacy you want to leave for your loved ones and for future generations.


LEGACY | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary

What is Legacy? | Legacy Project

The Importance of Cultural Context: Expanding Interpretive Power in Psychological Science | Psychological Science