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The nonfinancial inheritance

By Judy Martel · Bankrate.com
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Posted: 12 pm ET

Your legacy should be more than a financial one.

When it comes to passing down an inheritance, most families think of money and tangible assets. But there's another legacy that's even more important to the preservation of families --the noneconomic one.

Typically, it's not until after the financial paperwork, such as wills, trusts and family business agreements, is in place that families begin thinking about how they want their heritage, or identity, to be communicated to subsequent generations. But planning for this type of legacy can and should begin even earlier, giving multiple generations the opportunity to work together on the family story.

"More and more, families are recognizing the importance of family heritage," says Susan Dsurney, family wealth adviser and CPA at GenSpring Family Offices.

"We have found that capturing and celebrating a family's history -- its triumphs, tragedies, values and faith, for instance -- have played an important role in strengthening family cohesiveness through the generations," she adds.

The benefits of passing along the nonfinancial inheritance are numerous, but where do families start? Dsurney says there are multiple routes to explore that involve different generations and viewpoints, including blogs, family websites, and audio or video recordings. Some of the families she advises write their family history in the form of a self-published book. One wealth creator is participating with a grandchild in National Public Radio's StoryCorps, an audio project that allows families to record and preserve stories.

Often, families are beginning to develop a legacy without really realizing it, by handing down family recipes, for example. Dsurney points out that traditions such as sharing the history of particular heirlooms, traveling to favorite vacation spots and playing games together can seed a heritage that families can build upon and formalize. Family vacations and gatherings are ideal times to galvanize members into coming up with ideas to preserve the common history.

The goal is to engage families in current exploration while also leaving an imprint for future generations to supplement.

Have you thought of how you'll preserve your family's nonfinancial legacy? Share with us your ideas.

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