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Capturing Generational Legacy

Posted by Dr. Kirby Rosplock on 10 March 2015

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In this week’s blog post, I discuss generational legacy, and what this entails for both the senior generation and the next generation.

Generational Legacy

When you ask individuals how they define legacy, the answers vary greatly. For some, legacy means their ethical will that conveys important personal stories, values, principles and beliefs. For others, legacy means financial- leaving valuables, keepsakes or wealth. And for others, legacy means a philanthropic footprint that influences, impacts and endows causes, making the world a better place. How does one bring into focus what is important for others to know, remember, honor or appreciate about one’s life? The family office can help facilitate an enduring legacy of the family and it’s individual members.

Legacy to the Senior Generation

For members of the senior generation, the process of capturing one’s legacy is powerful, and can illuminate the character of an individual and what they have endured in their life. This also provides a window for other family members to experience influential stories that shaped the family dynamics. The senior generation’s legacy can be captured in oral, written or film accounts of these stories, experiences and impressions. Iris Wagner (interviewed in an earlier blog post) founder and film creator of Memoirs Productions, has helped many individuals articulate their legacy for sharing with family members of all generations. Iris says that legacy is as much about the process of helping individuals reflect on the events that have given their lives meaning as it is about the end product. “Often, stories are revealed that even their children have never heard. Legacy is about linking the past to the present and providing guideposts for future generations,” shares Wagner. For families where there is a heritage of capturing legacies of family members over generations, these stories help illuminate values, and build a mantel of moral fibers that can bridge one generation to the next.

Fredda Herz Brown, PhD and Fran Lotery, PhD, note in their book The Family Wealth Sustainability Toolkit that, “A legacy is at once timeless and time bound. By the time a family business has been shaped into a family enterprise, the group understands that its legacy is something different than what it owns, and a shared vision and values have been adopted. Each generation then has the important responsibility of molding its own vision and values, recommitting to the family legacy, and reshaping it for the future.” For Herz Brown and Lotery, legacy is a way to reconnect to the values and heritage of the family, and to help recharge and reinvigorate their shared vision. Both authors agree that legacy is a critical component to the long-term sustainability of a family, not merely an exercise for reflection.

John A. Warnick is founder of the Purposeful Planning Institute, a professional organization whose members assist clients in creating legacy. Warnick suggests the purpose and meaning of a family’s wealth is too often buried beneath complicated legal and estate documents. “Lost in the sterility of the typical legalese of wills and trusts is the love parents and grandparents feel for their children and grandchildren- the faith they have in their descendants’ potential to grow and develop, and the hope they hold for the future.” He trains advisors to use visioning exercises and purposeful conversations to harness a client’s positive emotional energy and skillfully weave those expressions of love, meaning, values and wisdom into the financial and estate planning structure. Many children and grandchildren of those who have created such a legacy report experiencing “tears of joy” when hearing or reading their parents’ and grandparents’ vision and purpose. Warnick finds it sparks a much stronger appreciation for the meaning of the wealth, and is a powerful antidote against entitlement. Warnick also stresses the importance of family meetings, storytelling and meaningful conversations as additional ingredients in the purposeful transitioning of all dimensions of a family’s wealth.

Rick Harig, principal of Legacy Resources, has also made his life’s work about helping affluent individuals discover the meaning and purpose of their wealth. In one client experience, Harig shared a story of a couple who had substantial wealth and had worked strategically to plan and organize it efficiently, yet they did not find meaning in what they had amassed or the impact their wealth could have. As a legacy strategist, Harig helped them go beyond transactional planning to transformational planning so that their wealth would have deeper meaning.

Not all members of the senior generation are comfortable tackling the legacy question on their own, and as a result, there is a growing movement in the wealth management and family office industries to help individuals design legacy conversations.

Legacy to the Next Generation

Capturing legacy can be difficult. It requires individuals to take a journey through different parts of life, experiences, places and influential people who have been impactful. There are helpful tools and exercises available, such as the Legacy Conversation developed by Dr. Carolyn Friend and Dr. James Weiner. In an interview with Friend and Weiner, Friend shared her personal experience as a beneficiary of wealth left by her parents. Yet, the valuables left behind were merely objects, and what Friend longed for was a deeper connection to her deceased parents. Today, Dr. Friend and Dr. Weiner have made their mission about engaging the senior generation with their children in a broader legacy conversation to inspire their future together. “Family dynamics in affluent families can be transformed through the process of engaging a family in a legacy dialogue that reaches across generations. The power of the conversation is not only on the senior generation, but the meaning it can bestow on the future members of the family,” shares Friend and Weiner. The team has built an advisory practice to aid affluent families in intergenerational dialogue around legacy issues.

The legacy conversation in a family does not have to be an isolated event or exercise. Rather, the seeds of legacy can be sewn over time and captured and memorialized in a number of different ways. In my family, my grandfather captured lessons and inspiring or humorous quotes from each of his milestone birthdays. His memoir was self-published and shared with our family and friends as a keepsake and a powerful glimpse into the life he lived and obstacles he overcame form decade to decade. His memoir will be passed down from generation to generation in my family.

Many families also make it a part of their educational process to engage future generations in interviewing their elders. These informal discussions are sometimes recorded or transcribed. The next generation may present what they’ve learned from their great aunt of grandfather at a family retreat or meeting. This can be a powerful and enlightening exercise that can inspire and motivate each generation of the family.