How happy is your family? Do you communicate about what matters most? Do you truly know each other? Mere facts are meaningless until infused with significance. Your family’s passions, longing, failures, regrets, wins and learning are the fabric of life, and the stories that recall “life” are crucial to building a lasting legacy.
Do you know the first names of your great-grandparents? Many people don’t. Only a few of the families we have worked with over the past decade have taken time to fully capture their family story and harness its legacy-building power. We often wonder why such a disconnect exists in this age of digital connectedness. When it comes to important stories and lessons of life that forge family identity, most are passed down from generation to generation. Our family history provides the context in which we perceive life and make the decisions that shape our future. However, the orienting and preserving power of our family history and story is often lost by the third generation if not recorded.
Most estate plans focus on preserving financial assets from tax erosion with little thought given to preserving them from lost family identity and virtues. When legal documents are unveiled at the passing of parents, sometimes for the first time, children connect to the family’s true wealth. Often surprised and fearful about what to do next, they turn to our practice to help them find a better way.
Imagine that your great grandchildren could know some of the exciting things that happened in your life. What if you shared your story and it contained a life lesson that might help guide them? The family story exists, spoken or unspoken, good or bad – whether you are aware of it or not. Telling it is often the spark that kindles a desire to pass along values and a rich heritage. Someone with a desire to benefit the family now, and in the future can capture your family story. Since each of us has had successes and failures, it’s good to record the struggles in order to shed light on the victories.
So how can you begin today to make your family legacy better and stronger? What if you’re not a great writer or storyteller? Start with something simple to get the ball rolling and make it attractive for other family members to join in. Ask good questions, write down memories and thoughts, or conduct interviews and record the responses.
Fortunately, every journey begins with a single step. Realizing that your family story is vitally important and that help is available is just the beginning. Greg Hammond and Ron Ware regularly help families discover their true wealth and build a living legacy. Download this list of sample questions to help you get started.