How are you doing on that score?
An intriguing article by Richard Eisenberg, senior Web editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue, caught our eye. Click here to read his original article. We’ve condensed his article below (and added in some of our own comments).
Eisenberg based his article on a recent survey of people over 45. What he found was that when asked “What’s most important to pass on to the next generation?” the No. 1 answer was: “Values and life lessons.”
By the way: the answer “financial assets or real estate” came in last.
What the Wisest Say
Similarly, Cornell University gerontologist Karl Pillemer, who interviewed more than 1,200 Americans for the Legacy Project told Eisenberg: “We found that many of the elders see transmitting their values and core principles as their most important legacy.”
One lesson for parents, Pillemer said, is to “be sure to communicate your values to your children and to bring them up to appreciate having very clear principles for living.”
How ‘The Goodwin Games’ Dad Did It
In the Goodwin Games, Beau Bridges’ character – patriarch Benjamin Goodwin – is trying to do just that, albeit a little late.
At the reading of his will, his three estranged grown children watch the first of a series of videos that Goodwin has made. The message? His children will inherit his $23 million estate only if they “demonstrate good judgment, live up to their potential and be the people they still can be.”
In short, Goodwin’s goal is to parent his children from beyond the grave.
A post-mortem video may not be the best way to pass on values. On the other hand, passing on values can be tough and the video approach is better than none. There are, however, many other options that can be much better, particularly if they’re done with your children while you’re still living.
For most of us, face-to-face, two-way conversations work best. These conversations can be formal or informal.
The Formal Approach
Some families prefer to have these formal meetings during a Thanksgiving gathering (just not during the meal). In this meeting, the matriarch or patriarch might say something like: “Let me share with you what’s important to me in the culture of our family.” Then ask your grown children: “Does this make sense to you?”
Then take some action. For example, if being charitable is a high priority to you and you want your kids to help the needy, too – you might all pool together some money and make a donation as a family. You might want to create a special fund that continues after you’re gone.
Another formal approach would be to hold a family meeting outside the home and bring in a life planner professional to help run it. There are numerous directories of professional life planners available on the internet. (However, an obvious word of caution: don’t just choose one blindly;do your research carefully)
Going the Informal Route
Alternatively, you could do what many other have done with their grown children: look for ways to subtly drop hints about your values. When talking with your grown kids, act as a role model, so they can pick up your values by watching what you do. Also, be willing to talk about how and why you handle things the way you do.
For example, if you think managing your money wisely is important, explain to your grown children how you do it – that you make an annual retirement plan contribution, that you’ve just found a way to slice expenses without a huge sacrifice, and so on. There’s no need to cite actual numbers. You’re trying to instill habits and values; the dollar amounts are irrelevant.
Instilling A Sense of Family History
According to the surveys that Eisenberg evaluated, the second most important legacy that people can leave their families is a sense of family history. This includes saving and sharing family stories as well as explaining family mementos and heirlooms.
Probably the most difficult item on this list (from a dividing it up standpoint) are the mementos and heirlooms. Grandma’s favorite teacup may only be worth $2, but it’s sentimental value makes it priceless. On top of that, there’s only one teacup and how many ways can you split it up? .
If this sounds familiar, you might want to click here for 4 smart ideas on how to leave a legacy.
Whichever approach you take, start giving some serious thought about your values. Start passing on the elements that make your family unique. Meanwhile, focus on the life you’re living now. Embrace the wonder of opportunities that lie before you..
Jane Baker is the Co-Owner of Saving Memories Forever. She likes to write, garden, explore, read, meet with friends, and pat her cats. Not known for big spending, she and her husband, Harvey, like to take advantage of the free activities around St. Louis. She volunteers with several local organizations with her favorite one being STL Village.