The Gift of Story

by Laura Noble Walker, JD

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A friend of mine was recently packing up her home of 20 years as she and her husband prepared to downsize in preparation for retirement.  She came across an answering machine!  Anyone still have an answering machine?  There were 23 messages on the answering machine; they were all from my friend’s grandmother who prior to her death 5 years ago would call often “just to stay in touch and make sure my friend and her family were happy and doing well.” The emotion my friend was experiencing as she listened to several of the messages was apparent…sad her grandmother was no longer with her, but joyful to hear her beloved grandmother’s voice. 

I lost my grandmother many years ago.  There have been times when I wish I could ask for her advice or get her perspective on a situation.  She was strong in her faith and had a significant role in my personal faith journey.  I do have her Bible; the pages worn and marked with her handwritten notes; her notes have helped to tell me her story. 

The impact of story.  Who we are, what we have experienced, the lessons we have learned...they matter; they tell our story.  And stories are meant to be shared.   

As an estate planner, I often share with clients and their families the statistic that 90% of families fail to keep their family and their wealth together for more than three (3) generations.[i]  This statistic is not necessarily the result of inadequate traditional financial and estate planning, but more likely the failure to emotionally prepare the family for the wealth they inherit.  One way to possibly overcome this is to provide the family with pre-inheritance experiences where the family can work together, make decisions together and have fun together!  A recent study re-confirmed that families are more comfortable in discussing legacy than they are inheritance because legacy captures family traditions, stories, life lessons and values.[ii]


As we approach the holiday season, and we gather with our families, might we take the opportunity to ask our loved ones meaningful questions such as:

What are three of the most exciting events of your life?  The most disappointing or challenging?

What are the most important lessons you have learned in life?

Who has been an influential person in your life?

These questions can be asked of family members at all stages in life:  children, young adults, mature adults and seniors.  Consider documenting these conversations in the form of letters or audio recordings.   Documenting these conversations can allow them to be enjoyed in the future and shared with generations of your family. 

[i] Perry Cochell and Rod Zeeb, Beating the Midas Curse, Second Edition 2013, Page 13

[ii] Allianz American Legacies Pulse Survey, 2016