What Will You Pass On?

- November 3, 2011

"It Might Be More Valuable Than You Think."

I recently wrote a post titled, "Finding New Purpose on the Age Wave," that explored how baby boomers can use the next phase of their lives to make major contributions to society while doing things that are deeply satisfying personally. For many, the core motivation in finding a new purpose is the desire to leave a legacy that is more than passing on personal assets and possessions to the next generation.

There is also an aspect of legacy building that has nothing to do with doing good deeds or leaving money to a good cause. The Allianz American Legacies Study, commissioned by Allianz Life Insurance Company, uncovered an intangible side of leaving an inheritance. ProBono News shared this jewel from the study:

The study found that both boomers and those in the elder generation were uncomfortable discussing the one-dimensional topic of leaving an "inheritance," but both embraced the idea of leaving a "legacy" because it captures all facets of an individual's life -- including their family traditions and history, sharing stories, values and wishes. Non-financial items that parents leave behind -- like ethics, morals, faith, and religion -- are 10 times more important to both boomers and their parents than the financial aspects of inheritance.

I find this remarkable: in a society that tends to worship youth and push old people out of sight and mind, I love knowing that passing on the wisdom of elders was found to be important to both the boomers and their parents. Transferring assets and wealth between generations is a well-known process. But how do you transfer life lessons, family traditions, and other things money cannot buy?

This past summer I tried to fill part of what the Allianz study termed the "Legacy Gap" in my own family. I traveled to New York City to be with my mother after hip-replacement surgery. While there, I used my trusty iPhone to record some of her history. My timing wasn't great. She was recovering from major surgery and was focusing her energy on healing. I am grateful we got in nearly 20 minutes of conversation and I plan on continuing it in the near future.

Many of us live our "legacies" every day through how we conduct ourselves and by following our chosen paths with integrity. Sharing lessons by example to the next generation is a powerful and wonderful gift. At the same time, our techno-intensive lifestyle often includes documenting everything said and done. As befits today's lifestyle, plus the growing list of opportunities to meet the needs of aging boomers and their families, companies are sprouting up that provide services to fill the legacy gap by helping leave behind what's most important in a tangible form.

One of those companies is called Legacy Keepers. Keith Ogorek, Senior Vice President of Legacy Keepers says:

Unfortunately, I have talked to too many people who say I wish I had known about this sooner, because either their parents have passed or their health has declined. That's why we are telling people to make sure you capture life stories while you can, whether you use our company or you do it yourself. Years from now, you will be so glad you did.

There might be barriers to capturing the intangible side of your family's legacy, whether it is recording favorite stories or something deeper. They could be related to communication issues, technology or interview skills. Don't be deterred. Too many times in life, we put off what is important thinking we have plenty of time to get it done. Sometimes it works out. Other times, life has different plans and we miss out. I agree with Keith; if capturing a loved one's personal legacy is of value, find a way to get it done. It is something you can't put a price on.