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Lessons for Legacy – The Astors

Bill High

Bill High

June 26, 2018

Flowers only last for a season.  Such was the case of the Astor family.

John Jacob Astor was born in 1763 in Germany.  He immigrated to New York at the end of the Revolutionary War.  A chance conversation led him into fur trading and the establishment of a fur goods shop in New York.

That little shop was the beginning of his empire, which eventually included massive real estate holdings in Manhattan.  They owned so many parcels the Astor family became known as “the landlords of New York.”

The next two generations continued the growth of the empire. John’s son, William, owned more than 700 houses south of Central Park.  A centerpiece of their empire was the family home known as the Rokeby Mansion.

But the next two generations—benefactors of family trusts—lacked the same work ethic of the prior generations and became attracted to their celebrity status.  As a symbol of their failed wealth, Rokeby Mansion fell into disrepair.  While the mansion was still occupied by descendants of the Astors, they were impoverished and lived hand to mouth.

We will all leave a legacy.  But if we are not careful to maintain it, and preserve it generation after generation, it dies and becomes only a memory.

So how do you preserve a legacy? It’s not a straight forward process, but I believe one of the keys is to put in place your family’s own compass settings by establishing your mission and vision. While each generation may live these things out slightly differently, it is possible to still set the North Star on which generations remain focused.

The challenge of course is to start. So take Step 1: Have a family conversation. Talk about what you feel you all do well together, what do you love, what makes you passionate, etc. Find the commonality everyone can be together in. Through that conversation, and hopefully continued conversations, you will begin to find themes to begin shaping your mission and vision together.

Every journey is achieved one step at a time. Build together.

About Bill High

Bill High

Bill High is the Founder of The Signatry. His mission is to empower families in building multi–generational legacies of generosity. Bill works with families, individual givers and financial advisors, with expertise in guiding business owners looking to sell or transition their business to the next generation.

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