Every one of us receives and passes on an inheritance. The inheritance may not be an accumulation of earthly possessions or acquired riches, but whether we realize it or not, our choices, words, actions, and values will impact someone and form the heritage we hand down.
— Ben Hardesty
Successful estate planning is about far more than simply passing your wealth to the next generation— it’s also about passing on your values. No matter which financial or legal structures you choose to contain and manage your assets, these instruments only preserve your wealth until it reaches the hands of your beneficiaries. What happens then? Your values enabled you to accumulate wealth and persevere in spite of obstacles and long odds. If your children and grandchildren don’t share and cherish those values, they could lose their inheritance as quickly as they received it.
But our values can be hard to capture in language. They seem second nature to us only because we live them every day. Here’s an exercise to help you identify your (perhaps) rarely-spoken moral code and communicate it to the next generation.
The Science of Surfacing Your Subconscious Values
In Chapter 3 of his bestselling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, productivity author David Allen discusses what he calls vertical project planning— that is, identifying the “why’s” and “what’s” of any project before engaging with its details. To reveal the standards that you have regarding any task, just finish the following sentence:
“I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they…”
For instance, if you’re planning a dinner celebration for your dad’s 70th birthday, you could fill in the blanks as follows:
…as long as they created a budget for the party and got buy-in from both of my sisters to contribute;
…as long as they made sure to double check the guest list with mom;
…as long as they booked a restaurant within 30 minutes from my parents’ home.
As it pertains to communicating values, we could reword it like this:
“I would give a total stranger free rein to guide the people I care about most about how to live a great and moral life as long as they…”
…as long as they make sure to communicate my core values of creativity, compassion and integrity;
…as long as they give many concrete examples of these standards being met and not met to demonstrate exactly what I mean;
…as long as there’s some mechanism to remind my family of these values in an ongoing way, so that they don’t forget;
…as long as they make inheritance from the trust I establish conditional on whether my beneficiaries live these values.
Estate planning is ultimately not only about passing along your tangible wealth and deciding how to distribute assets. It’s an opportunity to ensure your legacy into the next generation and beyond. Clarifying your values and working to effectively pass them along can be a profoundly liberating experience.
Please contact us for insight about how to get started with this process.