A Legacy of Values – An Ongoing Conversation with Your Family

By Eric Most, VP Rocky Mountains Region

My parents never really spoke about money. Honestly, that put me and my siblings at a real disadvantage in a lot of ways. But I don’t believe that this is uncommon. That generation worked hard and provided for their families — but they just didn’t talk about it.

There are many givers today who have concerns and desires about the legacy they want to leave their families, but because they’ve never addressed it with their families before, they realize many of their kids and grandkids may not be walking with the same value set they have. So when they start thinking about the financial legacy they’re going to leave, there’s fear and concern about a financial expectation that may not be met. They may have already helped pay for college, homes, helped their kids where they could, and now want to leave a charitable impact. They don’t know what kind of effect that may have on their kids, who may not realize that’s where they plan on leaving their assets.

An important conversation
The conversations about money and the conversations about values, are not conversations to put off.  We need to start these conversations today.

The real desire that many have, as I think my parents did, is a desire that’s greater than the financial legacy. It’s a legacy of values, stories, and intangibles. Still many are not having those conversations. I encourage you to start being mindful of having those conversations.

Capture moments when you can 
One thing has become clear to me, personally, especially over the past two years as my parents have been experiencing progression with Parkinson’s and Alzheimers’ diseases.  Those opportunities you think you have for conversations are often diminishing faster than you think they will. 

There’s a season of life where kids don’t think their parents know anything –typically when the kids are in high school and college. Then, as kids become adults, they want to connect more and learn more about their parents’ story. What type of legacy of faith are they leaving, are we leaving? This can inform legacies of money and giving.

I don’t want to wait until my kids are out of school to begin these important conversations. With my 8 and 5 year old, we have regular family business meetings, helping the boys talk about and learn about giving and investing. The business meetings started with my older son, Hudson, coming to me saying he wanted to make some more money. 

Jacqie and I didn’t want to give him a pure allowance, so we have a responsibility chart. Based on the chart and the order of completion, the boys could earn up to a set base pay (this is a dollar per year of their age). They can also earn commission on some performance-based activities. Doing the dishes might be performance-based commission for the  5 year old, but it would be part of base pay for the 8 year old. Then at each business meeting, the boys have Save, Invest, Give, and Spend jars. We help divvy up their money among those jars. I occasionally buy Disney stock for the boys and give them updates. It doesn’t have to be Disney, but that’s a brand and company that they understand and are aware of — it helps to contextualize something complex like stocks. I didn’t have any awareness of the stock market until near the end of my college years!

To encourage generosity and greater generosity, we’ve committed to doubling whatever the boys give. Last year the boys ran a lemonade stand and collected tips. They used all of their tips for a donation to Colorado Springs’s I Love You. It was a proud moment for us as parents, and we doubled the funds the boys raised for that charity.

As I mentioned, we try to contextualise giving in ways they can understand. In addition to referencing stocks like Disney, we get the boys books and pictures about the people and the work we support. We try to give the boys real life context to our charitable giving and do it in a way that can encourage them to be generous young men.

Meaningful time together
Shared experiences are always a great way to start conversations. By going to a neutral location to have these conversations, everybody’s on an equal playing field, allowing the person leading these discussions to set the tone. For example, grandparents sponsoring a family get-together at a place like  Trail West Family Camp is a great way to enable rich conversations to happen.

We have another giving family who rents a house every other year somewhere in the world for their kids and grandkids to spend a week together. Moving outside of their day-to-day lives allows the opportunity to have some more of these pointed conversations without day-to-day distractions.

For older kids or grandkids, you might gather them around at Thanksgiving and say, “We’ve got this pool of money in our Donor-Advised Fund that we’d like your help in giving away.” You can directly invite them into your giving practice and learn about what’s important to them at the same time. Here’s an example of instructions you could give them:

“Between now and Christmas, do some research about a cause you’d like to support, and help us give this pool of money away. They have to be an organization that would be approved by NCF. With those parameters, go forth!” 

Talk to them about what you’ve valued and chosen to support in the past. What has been important to you? Maybe you support bringing the gospel to those who’ve never heard it in the developing world, so you’ve given to missions.  Those are your values, but you want your family to have the freedom to give to what is important to them, too. Bring everybody together and have those conversations. You’ll be glad you did.

You can start this tradition with any size pool of money, $5,000- $20,000. After the kids in your life have done research about where they’d like to donate money, give them further responsibility.  If you all decide you’re going to give a certain amount to an organization, whoever found and researched the organization can be assigned to follow up with them throughout the year and report back on the organization’s work. It may end up becoming something you support for the long term, and the kids in your life become active participants in your legacy.

When you provide opportunities for conversation, for giving together, for sharing your values, you also provide the beginning of your loving legacy…and you can witness that legacy come to life.