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Family Legacy Conversation

September 4, 2014

“Connecting One’s Wisdom to One’s Wealth”

The Family Legacy Conversation is a process that helps families discover, recollect and record defining moments in life that have not only made a difference in the lives of their families and communities but has also guided, connected and strengthened their own lives while reinforcing relationships across generations.  For example, in many families, values, beliefs, traditions, heritage, lessons and other insights are communicated but often in silence.  In other words, they are not talked about but modeled and assumed through daily experiences together.  In a recent conversation, a client who had inherited resources from her parents commented that “the saddest part is the lost opportunity to talk with my parents not only about their lives but about their hopes for my inheritance and to think and plan together”.

Why is it that we spend 99% of our planning time creating tangible estate documents and financial plans hoping and believing that, within these necessary documents, our legacy and wishes will endure when it is the intangible parts of our lives and experiences that generally matter most to our loved ones?  Often, legacy planning seems to be a daunting task with some unknown risks, and we are concerned about being misunderstood and worried about how the conversation will be received.   Sometimes, we also think it is self-important or even selfish to talk about the past and our self, and believe some things are better left unsaid.  So, we put the decision off until a more opportune time.

Children have other reasons for not bring up the subject such as valuing their parent’s privacy or being perceived as greedy or materialistic.   They also don’t want to be misunderstood.   However, by avoiding the conversation, it is possible the next generation will be unprepared and not as connected to the history and future of the family.

The truth is that everyone has a legacy and it is the wisdom, experiences and stories that are the essential ingredients of a family’s heritage.  Although, in some respects the advisory community has at times placed a make believe barrier between the intangible aspects of life, our story and values, and the actions, strategies and plans we implement for our material possessions and wealth.  It is the connection of these intangible dimensions with our material inheritance goals that works to create a lasting legacy.

We are probably familiar with the proverb “Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in three generations,” which describes the process of wealth creation to wealth consumption and loss.  Often, this results in part because we concentrate our efforts and advice on preserving a family’s financial capital to the exclusion of qualitative matters and the overall well-being of the family.

In “Willing Wisdom” a book written by Tom Dean, he proposed this question for the next generation, “How could my estate, inheritance and financial plan advance the hopes and dreams you have for your life, your family and the community”?  There, of course, is no right answer but it does offer the opportunity to begin the Legacy Conversation.

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