Family Values and History Are Still the Best Inheritance

July 12, 2012
Updated on December 3, 2020

If you are concerned that fluctuating housing and investment markets, rising medical costs, and longer-than-expected lifetimes are reducing your children’s inheritance, you need not be. According to a popular study, family values, traditions, and history still mean more than money as an inheritance.

These results are from the 2012 Allianz American Legacies Pulse Survey, which surveyed baby boomers (ages 47 to 66) and elders (age 72 and older). Allianz Life conducted a similar study in 2005. Interestingly, despite the financial crises that occurred between 2005 and 2012, the results were strikingly similar, with a high percentage of both boomers (86 percent) and elders (74 percent) agreeing that family stories, values, and life lessons are the most important part of a family’s legacy.

Further, in both studies, only 4 percent of boomers said that an inheritance is owed to them. By contrast, the number of elders who felt an inheritance is owed to their children dropped from 22 percent in 2005 to 14 percent in 2012. This may reflect their concerns about having to use more of their savings for living expenses, compounded by loss of savings from lower market values.

While the size of the financial inheritance is not seen as important, planning is. A high percentage of both groups (82-84 percent) emphasized having instructions in place in the event a parent were to become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. Both have strong desires to avoid family conflicts when it comes to estate planning and legacy issues. Younger people also believe that keeping family possessions is important.

Elders also want to impress upon their children the importance of personal responsibility. About three-fourths of elders surveyed have obtained some professional assistance with estate planning and have initiated discussions with their children about end-of-life and inheritance issues. By contrast, only about a quarter of the boomers have planned their estates, and less than half have had discussions with their own children about these issues. That may be due in part to boomers being less frugal in general than their parents or simply feeling that they have plenty of time left to plan.

Wondering how to ensure your family values, traditions, and history are passed on to future generations? Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Encourage elders to tell stories about their family and their own lives and experiences. Family gatherings when multiple generations are present are perfect, but one-on-one conversations work well, too. Videotape as much as possible to capture not only words but also the storyteller’s personality and mannerisms. No need to have a formal interview; just put the camera on and let it roll. Do not tape too long at a time, though, as the storyteller could tire easily. If you do not have video, assign someone to take notes and share the stories with other family members.
  • Scrapbooking and photo albums are great ways to document family history by themes and occasions. Just be sure photos are identified with names, dates, and places.
  • Write your memoirs or autobiography, family history, or a collection of essays about your relatives or what life was like when you were growing up.
  • Write letters to your children or young grandchildren about life lessons you would like them to learn from you.
  • Share your faith and testimony with family members in person or in writing.
  • Create a family medical history. Include date and location of births and deaths, cause of death, burial location, marriages and children, notable illnesses, and medical conditions.
  • Make an inventory of special family heirlooms and possessions. Take a photo of each and document its story. If you want a certain person to receive a certain item, include that in your estate plan. Better yet, if you can bear to part with it, go ahead and give it to that person now.
  • Use the internet to share family history and traditions with other members of your family. Create a family website to post old family photos and stories or videos of your elder storytellers, and to document family reunions, marriages, births, and passings.

Note: If you store information on your computer or online, be sure to provide access for someone else in the event something happens to you. Include specific information about where files or accounts are located and passwords that might be needed to access them.

Most importantly, talk with your parents or children about end-of-life issues (i.e., incapacity and healthcare directives, location of important financial documents, estate planning) and what is important to them and to you. Do this now, before illness or aging interfere and prevent you from having these discussions.

Faith and Values, Inheritance, Children
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