A recurring theme on the genealogy show “Finding Your Roots” is how little a parent or grandparent has shared about their heritage and life experiences with their children. As these children grow up, and particularly as they move into middle age and beyond, they often wish their parents had been more forthcoming.
Today, many people are going beyond a will when it comes to legacy planning to include a number of intangible components in their estate planning process, sharing details about themselves, their ancestors, their experiences, their family vision, and important family possessions. Let’s talk about a few areas you should consider.
Your family heritage
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots,” noted Marcus Garvey. Helping your family understand who their ancestors are, where they came from, what they did, and how they lived can be a source of both inspiration and comfort for many.
The New York Public Library published an article on the “20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History.” Here are a few:
- You’ll feel wiser.
- Memories over time become fragmented and distorted.
- Family histories humanize the people you know or knew and remember for those who do not know them.
- It may help you understand your current family dynamics.
Ancestry.com, a popular resource for tracing your family tree, adds another reason. What better way than to leave a gift that can last for generations to come? Both Ancestry.com and 23andMe® offer DNA testing, providing a comprehensive ancestry breakdown as well as personal trait reports. This can be a great way to leave a gift that can last for generations to come.
According to Kiplinger, “Some experiences affect you more than others do.” Jewish theologian Michael Goldberg considered these “master stories.” Kiplinger continues, “Master stories transform and shape who you are and form the way you think about the world. Everyone has different master stories depending on the events of their lives and how they processed them. For example, one of your master stories might be about how you met your spouse, or how hard you worked to get your college degree, or the time you and your brother spent a summer taking care of a bird. The story itself can be rather simple; the key is to capture how it marked a turning point in your perception.”
Taking the time to gather and write down master stories of your own can help ensure your legacy continues long after you’re gone.
Family traditions are experiences or activities that are passed down between generations. These traditions can be as unique and special as the family itself. In addition to being something to look forward to, traditions also establish a foundation for family values and help strengthen the ties that bind.
Fast forward to when a grandchild asks at a holiday dinner, “What is this, and why do we always eat it only at (insert celebration)?” If you have one or more of these special dishes, write down the recipe and the story behind it. Perhaps you inherited pieces of silver or china that are only used for special occasions. Look for old photos of the pieces being used by prior generations and share them the next time the pieces are in use. Plan to take your family to a place that you frequented as a child, like a special restaurant where you would celebrate big occasions or a vacation spot you went to year after year.
In doing so, you will keep the family traditions alive. You can also start some new traditions as a parent or grandparent. Here are some creative ways to start new family traditions from The Everymom.
If your parent or grandparent collected something, like antique teacups or vintage cameras, do some research on the items you still own and consider sharing the information and distributing some of the collection to the next generation. Not everything has to be monetarily valuable to be important to your family’s story. You might have napkins embroidered by your great grandmother or a walking stick carved by your great grandfather. Make sure the people who will inherit these items know the emotional value these have for you.
Share with your family what kind of lives you would like them to live, including how you think they should handle their inheritance, after you have died. This discussion can provide inspiration to help them navigate the critical choices that will arise in their lives. It will give your family the tools to answer the question, “What would Dad or Mom do?”
You probably don’t want to imagine a world without you in it, especially one in which you’re leaving behind the people you love. However, taking the time to unearth family history, revisit important life events, share traditions, and gift heirlooms with their stories can be energizing, enlightening, and cathartic. Don’t see it as a chore but rather a fun, new hobby – one that creates a greater sense of connection and personal identity and a legacy far richer than money itself.