As a child I can recall spending a lot of time with my grandparents out on the Chesapeake Bay, fishing, crabbing, and digging for clams. I’ve even got the pictures to prove it. Conspicuously absent from these memories are the practical things, like how to properly fillet a flounder, pick apart a crab or prepare clam chowder. Experiences I wish I could pass on to my children, but the fact is, about the only thing I can teach my kids about food is how to navigate the aisles at the grocery store. Looking back, I wish I had paid more attention.
Nowadays, I enjoy listening to my 84-year-old father-in-law tell stories about growing up on a farm in northern Utah, driving a truck in the family lumber business, and how he became the youngest US federal judge ever, after accepting the position in the territory, not yet state, of Alaska. I love to listen to these stories and life lessons, and I appreciate their applicability to my life. But when my children spend time with their Grandpa Dave, what they see are the outward results of a lifetime of hard work, saving and making tough choices. At ages 10, 7 and 5, it’s difficult for them to see the lessons in the fact that Grandpa worked at a gas station, drove an overnight taxi and managed student apartments to support a young family while working his way through law school.
But in a world where our children seem to be learning their values from reality tv shows and social media friends, it’s imperative that they eventually do “get it”. And I don’t want them to have to wait 40 years to do it. As the father of three kids, I am constantly trying to help them learn and retain lessons about what’s really important, but like most kids they are not ready to get it. Someday they will be ready.
A recent study from Allianz (2012) indicates retirees priorities when passing down inheritance to heirs: family history and stories (86%), life lessons and values (77%), keepsakes and heirlooms (34%), and lastly financial assets (10%). As a financial advisor I’ve spent many years helping clients to accumulate and protect assets, assets they want to be able to pass on to heirs, but little time discussing ways to pass on lessons and values. I now include this as part of my discussion with clients, in order to help them order and prioritize their own stories for their own posterity.
One company dedicated to helping you pass down your values, along with your valuable, is Legacy Stories, which provides guidance and resources (both paper and online) to help people record their most important stories and memories and to make them available to family and future generations. Another, simple method, that I have done is to write a one-page letter to each of my children and attached it to my will. This way, when they are ready to get it, they will be able to read about the things I felt were most inspirational and important in my life. An additional benefit of writing these letters is how good it felt personally to recall past experiences and to be able to share these with my children.