How to Pass Your Stories and Values to the Future Generations
Money may be the most talked about wealth contained within a person’s estate, but the riches of their experience and wisdom can mean even more to family members down the line. Reinforcement of family traditions can be built into your estate plan alongside your wishes regarding your money, property, and belongings. After all, what really makes a family a family is its values and traditions — not the way its finances read on paper.
One way to ensure your values are passed on is to hold a family meeting in which you discuss the sorts of things that matter to you most. In addition to having a valuable conversation and sharing your personal wisdom, you can also make it more likely that your heirs will handle their inheritance correctly if they understand the reasons behind your choices. This is just one of the many reasons to have a family discussion about your legacy and your estate plan.
How to tell your story through your estate plan
Most of us enjoy hearing our elders and family members’ stories of their fondest memories and wildest adventures, as well as the struggles they overcame to get the family where it is today. This wisdom provides a background for a financial legacy that otherwise might just be viewed as a windfall – your heirs will understand the work that went into your estate and the value of it as a part of their family history. As part of your estate and legacy planning, you can decide to record your own personal history. Here are a few ways:
- Audio files: With the broad range of audio formats available today, you can record in the way that’s easiest for you - anything from a handheld cassette recorder to the Voice Memos app on your iPhone. There are some easy-to-use digitizing services that can compile your stories into audio files to make available to your family and descendants.
- Video files: The same goes for home movies and other video recordings. Older film formats can be easily digitized and organized along with the videos from your phone. Today’s technology also makes it easier than ever to add narration (and context) to a video, making the story all the richer.
- Photo albums: Many families have prized photo collections that catalog generations. It’s a tragedy when something like this is lost in a fire or extreme weather event, or even misplaced in a move. Creating a digital database is a favor to your family in more ways than one: Not only will they have access to these memories at any time, they can also feel secure knowing that these family treasures won’t be lost anytime soon and that multiple copies can be made for the different branches of the family.
- Letters and other writings: If you enjoy writing, you can also include handwritten or typed letters or stories to your family members in your legacy plan to be received and read at the time of your choosing. You can also include past letters and postcards that you may have saved or that have been tucked away in boxes, trunks and attics. It’s not only a personal delight to relive the memories of the past by reviewing your old letters and postcards, but it's also a great way for younger generations to get to know and truly appreciate your life journey and legacy.
Passing your values to the next generation
Some estate planning strategies blend your finances and personal values. For example, we might have a discussion on some of your core values in life. Whether you feel most passionate about the need for your beneficiaries to travel and gain worldly experience, continue a unique family tradition like sailing or astronomy, or support meaningful charitable or spiritual work, we can draft trusts that contain funds specifically set aside for these endeavors.
- Educational trusts: If you value education, you might want to set up a trust to fund undergraduate and graduate degrees, med school, study abroad, or even community classes for your family’s future generations. Because of sharp increases in educational costs within the U.S., your grandchildren will likely stand to benefit immensely from an educational trust.
- Incentive trusts: Similar to the way educational trusts set aside wealth for the purpose of funding a beneficiary’s schooling, incentive trusts can also help steer the course of your descendants’ lives be encouraging some paths while discouraging others. For example, an incentive trust could contain instructions for disbursements to be released when the beneficiary is working a part or full-time job. Or if family vacations were an important part of your upbringing, you could set aside funds specifically for your grandchildren to experience the same wonderful tradition you enjoyed.
- Charitable trusts or foundations: Charitable trusts or foundations establish a family legacy of supporting a particular cause, but they also have the added financial benefit of reducing income and estate taxes. They are an excellent way to help a charitable organization that’s central to your core values and make your name associated with that philanthropic effort for generations to come.
If having an estate plan that considers your family’s values as well as its monetary wealth is important to you, an online or “easy” will or trust form will not take into account all of the necessary factors. Work with a seasoned estate and trust administration attorney to ensure that your plan showcases your memories and values in a long-lasting way that truly benefits your heirs.