Storytelling is a skill we learn very early in life. Before we can read and write, we make up stories. We entertain ourselves and others with our stories, and we fill in gaps for what we don’t know.
As a child, I regularly used the three blocks from home to school to make up vivid stories. I would be so lost in my mind that I wasn’t aware of talking out loud to myself, resulting in a fair amount of teasing.
Stories also jump out of boxes when opened flaps reveal the past.
In recent months, I have been helping my mother sort through boxes with a lifetime of memories from multiple generations and branches of the family. The sorting of pictures and pieces of paper, old bank records, military orders and letters have elicited countless stories. Some I have heard, some I remember differently.
Apparently, sometimes I have completely made up stories to fit my memories, and more importantly my limited understanding of the circumstances.
That’s what children do. We make up stories. Innocent, cute story-telling in childhood becomes a well-honed skill by adulthood. We are all still telling stories.
Now we’re grown-ups with the kid still very much alive inside. My grown-up kid stories are how I make sense of what I don’t understand about my family.
Like the stories I spun on my three-block journey to school, the grown-up kid stories I weave now are not written down, recorded or videoed. There is no need; they are deeply ingrained in my heart and mind. I believe them.
It is that same well-honed storytelling skill that creates a dilemma for parents as they wrestle with when and how to convey important information their grown-up kids need to know.
For instance, if you’ve not explained to your children what to expect when the will is read, then you and they will be victims of the story they’ve been spinning about how family resources will be distributed, shared or not shared.
If your family has a history of being philanthropic and you hope your kids will follow your example, but you’ve not talked about your charitable intent, then you probably can’t imagine the stories they will tell themselves. Their invented stories will be different from your stories if they first learn about your plan from the will and estate documents.
Help your grown-up kids prepare for their future. Be clear about the important stuff now. Tell them your stories so they don’t make up their own.
Help them become comfortable with their legacy by sharing information about your plan. One of the smartest estate-planning actions you can take is to talk to them about what they can expect when the will is read. Grown-up kids especially need to be prepared for large or unexpected inheritances. Your attorney can provide support and assistance with this part of the process.
When philanthropy is part of your plan, don’t let them be surprised. You want to tell your philanthropy story and not leave it to them to make up.
Make time to record a philanthropic impact statement. It can be a written document or a recorded interview. Your story should include topics of history, motivation and values. It would answer questions like what was your first significant gift and why you’ve chosen to give in a certain way from your estate. It should include the values you hope to pass on to future generations.
A statement of philanthropic intent is an opportunity to share your stories with family in a positive way. I have witnessed the power of such statements as parents prepare their children for the legacy they hope to leave.
Sometimes referred to as a living will, such documents and recordings should be provided to your estate planner. Not legally binding, they are helpful to everyone.
To successfully manage an inheritance, grown-up kids need more than just financial knowledge. Rivers of emotion flow around the loss of a family member and reading of the will. Shared stories can prepare inheritors for that time.
Stories are powerful. Make sure they know your story and they won’t have to make one up when the time comes.
Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy, offers advising services to families, businesses and foundations to enhance the giving experience and maximize impact. She writes a blog, the YP Journal, at www.your-philanthropy.com. Comments and questions are welcome. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.