11/05/2013 02:25 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Leave Your Children More Than Money

Parents and grandparents work, plan, and hope that they will be able to leave a financial legacy to their kids and grandkids. In an August HuffPost blog I asked: Parents: Are You Prepared? It was a discussion centered around getting your financial house in order: wills, life insurance, guardians for your children, and final wishes -- to provide for the well-being of your children in the event of an unexpected loss of one or both parents.

In addition to the financial, there is another component to your children's legacy that you should consider -- the softer side. This is the very essence of your family that you want to pass on to the next generation. Most likely, information, mementos, photographs, genealogy, and even recipes that you probably wish had been handed down to you in a concise and organized way. This is an expanded version of a time capsule which I call The Vault.

Many of us have fading photographs of past generations of relatives whose names and relationship are forgotten. We hold onto them because they belonged to our parents, and maybe even their parents, but they hold little emotional connection to us. Who hasn't sat at a Thanksgiving table reminiscing about a great aunt's special stuffing -- wishing some family member had thought to write down the recipe? What is the story behind your child's tiny cowboy boots that you have kept tucked away in a drawer for 20 years? Where did they come from? Who gave them to your child, and what did you think when you first saw them?

There is even a current TV show, My Grandmother's Ravioli, based on the premise that host Mo Rocca regrets that he never learned to cook from his grandmother, so he travels around the country learning other family's cooking traditions from other grandmothers and grandfathers. This is the perfect encouragement to not let this happen to you.

The Past

  • Assemble a family tree. This doesn't have to be cumbersome and extensive, just work with the names and dates that you can easily gather. If you want to get more complicated, you can use computer software or a website dedicated to genealogy.
  • Heirloom jewelry or objects should have their history attached to them.
  • Put together a family recipe booklet. Gather favorite recipes from family members, and include photos that coordinate. You can also make a list of your kids' favorite foods over the years. It will be fun to look back at their evolving tastes.
  • Gather ephemera such as yearbooks, wedding invitation, birth announcements, refrigerator art, and newspaper clippings, and preserve them in acid-free paper.

The Present

  • Have your kids help you organize family photos, talk to them about the relatives and friends in the photos as you write the information down.
  • Arrange for your kids to interview extended family members and make an informal dossier for each interview.
  • Throw inter-generational cooking parties so you and your kids can learn from older family members.
  • Go over the items from the past with your kids. Begin a dialogue about your family history, customs, traditions, and beliefs.
  • Take notes at gatherings and holidays. Capture the special moments and record your thoughts.

The Future

  • Put aside special gifts for the future. Set aside Grandfather's gold pen, along with a letter, to be opened at a Bar Mitzvah or a strand of pearls for your granddaughter to wear on her wedding day. These will be loved if you are there to present them in person, and will take on special importance if you are not.
  • Write letters to the future. How about a note about how you feel when your kid goes off to the prom, that you can present at their wedding? Don't forget to include notes to future generations.


Talk to your kids and grandkids about your favorite charity. Explain why the cause is dear to you and why you have a special relationship with that charity. Leave an endowment, in your family name, to the organization and suggest your heirs follow in your tradition of giving.

Gather your treasure trove of family lore and traditions and store them in well-marked, fire-safe strong boxes -- The Vault. Periodically update information as your family changes. Your important financial documents: wills, deeds, insurance policies and valuables, should be kept in a safe deposit box at your bank branch. Along with the financial papers, put notes, instructions and the keys or combinations to the family memory cache.

The Vault offers a tangible way for generations of your family to have a continuing connection -- an annuity for the soul.

Please share your comments or anecdotes in the space provided.