Family Wealth Series: Let’s Talk About Creating a Positive Legacy

Two women have a conversation in a living room.

Learn how to have meaningful conversations with your grown children on topics such as identifying shared values, creating consensus about giving back, and developing a business succession plan.

If you’re a parent or grandparent, you likely have an interest in your adult children’s continuing to build a positive family legacy. An open discussion about goals and values is the first step toward doing that, says Mariana Martinez, Family Dynamics Consultant at Wells Fargo Private Bank.

And with recent stay-at-home directives and unknowns about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, there may be no better time to have these discussions.

“It’s important to start having conversations now about ways younger generations can continue creating a positive legacy,” Martinez says. “The broader perspective you gain in involving the entire family can help make your plan stronger and longer lasting.”

Here, Martinez outlines four things to consider when it comes to talking to your adult children about creating a positive legacy.

Share stories about your family’s history

Martinez says describing how past generations overcame adversity can help inspire your children to continue your family’s legacy. This will feel especially relevant as we seek a restoration of work, school, and other aspects of our lives.

“If something in your life made a big impact on you, bring it to life for your children or grandchildren,” she says. “What I often see is that parents expect children to continue their legacy, but there has never been a conversation about why it’s important. As a result, it could be easy for children to lose interest.”

For example, if you’re a business owner, Martinez says you could tell family members about the sacrifices you made to get that business off the ground and ensure its success, as well as about other challenges you had to overcome. Perhaps you even had a failed business before you had a successful one. Share that with them as well.

If you’re passionate about a particular charitable cause, share the personal experiences that led you in that direction. For example, do you donate money for cancer research because a family member was diagnosed with the disease? A defining moment like this may resonate now more than ever.

Identify shared values

A long-lasting family legacy can depend on family members’ agreeing about what’s most important.

To help build a sustainable family legacy, start by identifying your values and traditions:

If you’re focusing on philanthropy, what problem in the world does your family want to help solve?

If you have a family business, what guiding principles, values, and culture have you worked hard to instill that you want the next generation to carry on?

If you are thinking about creating a family foundation, Martinez suggests including your grown children in the planning. That could help ensure that the foundation reflects their values as well as your own.

Give your children a voice

Eventually, you will need to pause your sharing and mostly listen, so you can hear how your adult children or grandchildren want to be involved in maintaining the family legacy. Questions to ask them during that time could include:

For those with a family business:

  • What aspects are you interested in fostering as part of the family legacy?
  • Is there a niche where you can be particularly impactful?

For those with a family foundation or non-formal giving initiatives:

  • Do you have ideas about new directions for the family foundation?
  • What would you think about serving on a foundation for our family philanthropy and/or family business?

Collaborate with your team of professionals

Martinez recommends that families involve professional advisors in parts of the discussion. Key professionals such as wealth advisors, family dynamics consultants, and philanthropy specialists could play the role of facilitator to give a family meeting more structure, help ensure all voices are heard, and make sure you are building a legacy that reflects your family’s priorities.

Such professionals can also help identify strategies to help build a well-constructed family legacy that is viable for a long time. Those with a specialization in charitable planning can outline different philanthropic vehicles and recommend one that may be right for your family.

“But you first need to be sure that what you’re doing is in alignment with your values as a family,” Martinez says. “For example, if creativity is important for your family, then you may want to give to the arts. Deciding where the money goes is not the first step, however. After all, the first step in creating a legacy happens within the family, not outside. Don’t forget to focus there first.”

Martinez adds, “The more your efforts reflect what is most important to the heart of the family, the better your chances of creating a long-lasting legacy.”