Wealthy or not, many people have the desire to leave a legacy of ideas and values along with tangible inheritances. The centuries-old concept of passing along ethical teachings to ones heirs has found its way into modern estate planning in the form of “ethical wills” – audio tapes, photo albums, and even social media content, all designed to bequeath one’s values, along with one’s assets, to the next generation.
An ethical will may be just what the younger generation needs to get that values conversation started. Perhaps the best way to do this is through a set of interview-like questions. Often, while discussing estate planning with Geyer Law clients, we suggest they arrange an intergenerational interview with children and grandchildren. Some families might choose to make a video tape that will someday serve as the values portion of the inheritance.

Since beginning the process may be awkward, a set of “interview” questions may be prepared in advance.  And, while each situation is unique, we think Karl Pillerner’s list of “10 Questions to Ask the Important People in Your Life” can be used to get things started:

1. What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?
2. What kind of advice would you have about getting or staying married?
3. What kinds of advice do you have about raising children?
4. What advice can you share about finding fulfilling work and how to succeed in a career?
5. Difficult or stressful experiences can yield important lessons. Is that true for you?  Can you give me examples of what you have learned?
6. Do you see any turning points – key events or experiences – that changed the course of your life?
7. What would you say you know about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were age 20?
8. What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?
9. Have you learned any lessons regarding staying in good health?
10. What advice would you give to people about growing older?

Is it possible to use your estate plan to pass along your values to your beneficiaries along with your “stuff”?  As estate planning attorneys, we know the answer is “yes”.  Certain trust planning techniques may steer funds in certain values-based directions, but equally as powerful can be “intergenerational interviews”, conversations among family members, asking and answering questions and turning those all-important responses into a legacy all its own. 

– by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team