Preserving Family Legacy an Interview with Iris Wagner

Posted by Dr. Kirby Rosplock on 16 December 2014

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In this week’s blog, I interview Iris Wagner, CEO, Founder and Executive Producer of Memoirs Productions – a production company specializing in recording ethical wills, and personal and corporate video biographies for families, foundations, institutions and corporations throughout North America. Iris talks to us about ethical wills and the importance of preserving heritage and legacy.

Tell us about ethical wills.

For over fifteen years Memoirs Productions has produced documentary family heirlooms on archival DVD, mostly for family office clients who engage us as part of an ongoing legacy or family history project. The experience is fun and enjoyable for all involved and the final production is often delivered through a special Première private screening where each living family member receives this shared legacy production. This often becomes a cherished memory for the family.

What are some reasons families should compose an ethical will?

Ethical wills are about preserving an individual’s legacy of values and beliefs which is more of a spiritual document , differing from conventional wills .  Filmed on camera they allow an individual to share their own stories and wisdom in their own words. By verbally sharing tales of what they’ve learned, who has influenced them, what they stand for, where they succeeded or failed, an individual can pass on important values and lessons from generation to generation. As James E. Hughes Jr., author and family business advisor states, “It isn’t a complex document, it’s simply our story…sitting down and thinking it through, (an ethical will) is connection and story…in whatever way we communicate best”.

Producing an ethical will on video has advantages. A professional legacy consultant can objectively help an elder draw out certain ideas, identifying their truest values, lessons learned, and perhaps even uncovering themes they didn’t realize existed. There is nothing like having a descendant be able to watch the emotion of a loved one’s face as they tell their story. Most importantly, the act of preparing an ethical will allows one to preserve their family’s non-financial legacy.

What are some steps to getting started?

Firstly, it’s best to take time to reflect on and record in writing, on voice recorder or on video your personal history and all the key moments that have influenced you. Try and include information about preceding generations, the stories you’ve heard, the impact they had on you, what you observed from your elders, items that were considered family heirlooms, anecdotes and family history.

Then, review the various elements that have made you the person you are today by dividing up your life into decades and discuss the events, people, actions and moments that are most influential. You might also decide to record your personal highs and lows, challenges and triumphs, successes and failures. Use whatever tools necessary that will allow the most relevant stories to emerge that create the portrait of who you are and what matters most to you.

How you define the content will depend on who you intend to pass the legacy on to, for example, is it strictly for family use only or intended for next generations of business leadership? You may wish to include explanations, apologies, hopes, aspirations, and messages of forgiveness, if appropriate.

The act of creating an ethical will, whether it be written, oral or on video, can be a personal catharsis since it requires the subject to truly reflect upon what is important to them. The process is “emotional, reflective, insightful and deep,” according to Susan Portnoy, President of Organized Success who gave a video ethical will to her family on her 60th birthday. (You may view a sample clip of her video ethical will (Legacy of Values™) on Memoirs’ Video Gallery, kindly click here:

According to Greg Rogers, President of RayLign Advisory LLC, as he recorded his ethical will while in his early forties, it was a great relief to know that his beliefs were “preserved for future generations to see and internalize.” It’s never too early or too late to begin your ethical will process.

If you wish to view a sample clip of a Corporate (Family Business) Archival documentary along with a Corporate Ethical Will clip  you may view “The Peerless Story” on Memoirs’ Video Gallery, kindly click here.


Iris Wagner is CEO and Founder of Memoirs Productions. Iris has a degree in business, and worked in International Finance before graduate degree in Film and Communications at Concordia University.