Some of us have cherished items in our home that have been handed down from grandparent to parent and then to us. These may include handblown glass, photos, jewelry, furniture, candlestick. Material possessions that are physical reminders of the people who gave them to us are special.
We may be sentimentally attached to them and find it difficult to part with them. But more difficult to identify and quantify are the intangibles the values, hopes, dreams and philanthropic aspirations – that one generation may wish to share with another.
For values, hopes, and dreams, the historical practice of creating an ethical will is experiencing a resurgence. Unlike the last will and testament, an ethical will is not a legally binding document; rather, it is a written expression of what truly matters in your life that is shared with family, often when you are still alive. Among other topics, ethical wills allow individuals to share the values that guide their philanthropic actions.
Over the years, parents have also asked how best to transmit the “generosity gene” to succeeding generations. Many religions refer to this idea of raising up the next generation by intentionally teaching them values that they will pass on in turn. For example, a Jewish saying instructs, “As my parents planted for me, so do I plant for those who will come after me.”
The ongoing intergenerational wealth transfer has deepened interest from parents and scholars alike in understanding more about how the transmission of generosity occurs. For philanthropy, this unprecedented transfer opens up tremendous possibility.