Thursday, April 5, 2007

Ethical WIlls: What's the Money For?

An recent article about a group writing living wills reminded me what an excellent tool this can be. A document as short as a letter, expansive as a book, or as contemporary as a video is a wonderful way to communicate your values, life experiences, stories, and concerns to the next generations. It's very, very nice to inherit money, but it's rather impersonal if it comes without such communication. The article quotes a study by Allianz Insurance Company on baby boomers and their parents. It is not news that boomers are in the process of inheriting trillions of dollars from their parents who lived in unprecedented postwar prosperity. The study reveals that

  • 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
  • Thorough discussions about legacy planning include talking about the "four pillars" that are the core of a true legacy: values and life lessons, fulfilling final wishes and instructions, personal possessions of emotional value, and financial assets and real estate
I'm not sure I believe the 10 times more important part - I think people are pretty excited about inheriting money. But it does seem true that inheritances are more meaningful if they come with approval, guidance, and affection. There are books, classes, and workshops devoted to the creation of living wills. If a person is stuck, or simply not comfortable with their writing ability, one can hire a specialist to help. This seems like an excellent investment.
I have not yet done this myself, but when my son first moved into a place of his own, he asked me to write up the recipes of his favorite dishes that I make. It was a great request, and once I got started I couldn't leave out the blueberry muffin recipe, or Laurie's chocolate-dipped strawberries, or basically any of my favorites. And of course they needed background, editorial comments, and some illustrations and photographs. In the end, it included 50 recipes. I made a copy for myself, and I use it all the time - I now have all my most-used recipes in one place. I trust this cookbook will be around for a few future generations, and since I included recipes from my grandmother (his great-grandmother) and his grandmothers, it already spans four.
Probably it would have been easier to just write an ethical will! I figure my kids already know what I value, yada yada yada, but I guess I, and the rest of us, should not underestimate the lasting power of expressing these things in writing.

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