Study: ‘Family stories’ more important than inheritance

There have been a number of studies over the past several years that have tried to get a handle on how much wealth pre-baby boomers — those born before 1946 — are going to pass down to their baby boomer and post-baby boomer heirs.

In fact, while all agree the number will set a new record for intergenerational transfers, the figures vary widely, ranging from $25 trillion to $136 trillion. The specific number probably isn’t that important to most of us since any number followed by a trillion — with a “T” — is a lot.  Perhaps surprisingly, however, a study found that amount is also of less interest to the boomers themselves.

In a 2005 study commissioned by the Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, 86% of boomers named “family stories” as the most important part of their legacy — ahead of possessions and inheritance.

The study, which consisted of interviews with more than 2,600 seniors and boomers, also found 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.

The parents, however, aren’t buying it.

“Boomers,” the study found, “indicate they prefer to preserve their parents’ memories than receive a financial inheritance, while elders believe their boomer children are more interested in money.”

The study concluded that this disconnect, which is part of what the authors referred to as a “Legacy Gap,” needs to be addressed by parents and their children. To do so, the study identified “4 Pillars” that it suggests should form the basis of a meaningful conversation. Those included having discussions about: (1) values and life lessons, (2) instructions and final wishes and (3) financial assets.

A fourth pillar was a discussion of “personal possessions of emotional value,” or what we at Houstory simply like to call “heirlooms.”

Specifically the study urges heirs to ask their senior family members:

  • Are there items that document your life and/or family’s life that you would like to see passed on to future generations
  • Where do you keep your family photos – in albums or saved electronically, or other
  • Do you have any journals, diaries, scrapbooks, family history, or other important documents you would like to pass on?
  • Do you have household items that hold significant emotional value, but do not have much financial value?
  • Do you have toys, books, or mementos that you’d like to pass on to your children or grand children
  • Are there items like art, crafts, or furniture that evoke fond memories for you and your family?
  • Have you planned for the distribution of these items?

Of course, it’s these very questions and a desire to create an easy, effective and inexpensive way to address them that inspired the creation of The Heirloom Registry.

Giving one’s senior parents or relatives a handful of registry stickers or tags — or better, taking a couple hours to walk around their home with them to hear and help record stories about a few special items — can be both tremendously satisfying and a big step in helping close the legacy gap.