Home for the Holidays? Define Your Family’s Legacy

When you hear ‘Rockefeller’ or ‘Edison’ or ‘Earhart’ – you probably think of philanthropy or light bulbs or around the world flight. When your kids hear your family name, what do they think of? How does the community and the world at large remember your family? What is your family’s legacy?

Legacies must not only be built, but they must be heralded and passed into the future. It is your responsibility to find, nourish and preserve and publicize your family legacy. If not you, then who?

What legacy has been passed down to you? What legacy do you feel should be carried forward? Each generation has the right and the obligation to take up the family legacy and make it their own.

As Mark Hayes Daniell puts it in Family Legacy and Leadership: Preserving True Family Wealth in Challenging Times – “Family legacy encompasses all that a family holds dear and wants to preserve for the future – the histories, values, knowledge and experience that are just as essential as a family’s financial assets.” His position is that when families take the long view and stay together for generations they benefit not only by utilizing economies of scale within the family, but also by creating a community that causes the lives of all the family members to benefit.

What if your family has not defined it’s legacy? As Haynes points out in Family Legacy and Leadership – every family is heir to a legacy and every family member contributes to it. You just need to figure out which parts the current generations want to keep and which parts are best left in the past.

Here are a few tips geared towards helping multiple family members define and refine the overall family legacy that the now living generations want to leave to their future family members and to the community.

Think about the ‘4 pillars of legacy’.

These were defined by Ken Dychtwald based on a survey of elder Americans done by his company, Age Wave:

  • Values and life lessons.
  • Instructions and wishes to be fulfilled.
  • Possessions of emotional value.
  • Property and money.

Gather information from all living members of your tribe (including spouses, step-members, in-laws, children and any other person you define as family). You want to know of their accomplishments, their dreams, their skills and their special possessions. You also want them to name what they think are legacy items for each of their ancestral lines. Lessons learned from failures can be just as important to future generations as the success stories.

Here are a couple of ideas on how to gather that information:

  • Play a game – send out a list of questions to each family member then compose a written quiz to present the results as a game. Give small prizes to members knowing the most about their kin.
  • Play a game – make up a list of experiences, list on a paper, then give a list to each family member at a gathering. Have each member go around to the other family members and get a signature next to the experience that pertains to them. The person with the most names will win the contest.

Find common values.

  • Do an exercise – make up a list of values and have each family member rank the value in order of importance.
  • Compare the prioritized lists of values to glean the ones you have in common as a family.
  • Discuss ways to demonstrate the values you share.

Discuss different ways the family wants to be remembered.

Tell family stories – at Easter or any family gathering, have each family member (including even the young children) tell a short story about themselves or their family.

Research family history and present summaries of the actions and values demonstrated, noting items of historical significance.

What’s next?

In our next legacy article we will discuss figuring out how to live the legacy your family has defined for itself.

As Haynes indicated in his book, “Great legacies are no accident of history”.  Active involvement, sustained effort and focus are all needed to achieve and sustain a remarkable legacy.


“Build a legacy that will last far beyond your years” by Chelsea Greenwood October 12, 2009 from Success Magazine at http://www.successmagazine.com/live-your-legacy/PARAMS/article/861#

Family Legacy and Leadership: Preserving True Family Wealth in Challenging Times By Mark Daniell, Sara Hamilton, copyright 2010, published by John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

Age Wave website: http://www.agewave.com/index.php

Leaving a Legacy with Your Children and Grandchildren at http://pollexestateplanning.com/PagePdf/Creating_Legacy_Statement.pdf


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