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The Ignominious Death of the Extended Family

Like a slow-motion train wreck, with nary a whimper or a scream, the extended family and all the benefits it provides are disappearing one ‘byte’ at a time.

The typical American family has changed over the last couple of generations from predominantly ‘extended families’ to majority ‘nuclear families’. As a consequence, the manner by which the generations of the family interact has been irrevocably altered.

Despite the fact that we have technology that allows us to talk at any time, in a sense, we are communicating even less.

Until recently, the extended family provided each member a meaningful purpose and a role to play. The elders, when they became too old to be providers, naturally assumed the role of teachers to the young. They shared their life lessons, their wisdom and values. The young gained valuable knowledge to inform and guide them in life. More importantly, children learned what it meant to be part of the family and what their family stands for. The elders benefitted by validating their life and realizing their purpose.

Related: Why Legacy Matters to Estate & Succession Planning

The Family Narrative is more than just a statement:

Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush, creators of the “Do You Know Scale”, reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, and they exhibited higher levels of self-esteem and believed their family functioned more successfully. The net result is that children felt a strong ‘intergenerational self’ and know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

This perception is critical to shifting the heir’s perspective from ‘me’ to ‘we’.

In the extended family environment the family narrative was learned piecemeal, over years of conversation around the dinner table and at family gatherings.

One of the problems with the oral tradition is that the stories told, and subsequently re-told, changes over time and telling’s. One part of the story would be embellished and others were forgotten entirely.

In today’s world, the opportunities for face-to-face intergenerational engagement have diminished. The quality and frequency of those interactions likewise have become truncated.

The stories that matter, those that contribute to building the family narrative, do not come across in a text, tweet or brief phone call.

The lack of regular meaningful interaction makes those few face-to-face interactions awkward.

Ironically, the technology that has allowed our interactions to become infrequent, shallow and transient can be the very thing that saves them.

Rather than bemoan the lost innocence of those bygone days, we need to make the most of the cards we have been dealt.

Instead of finding new and better arguments why people should engage in the legacy-building process, our focus has been on the ‘human nature’ based impediments.

Among the impediments, we found that people considering the task of building a legacy portfolio become overwhelmed and frustrated with trying to figure how or where to start. Beyond these, many think that this work needs to be a written document and many feel are not up to the task.

Lastly and most importantly, procrastination rules the day. Life gets in the way.

In the development of LegacyStories.Org we spent the last decade researching and field- testing successful protocols and technology to overcome these impediments. But procrastination is still the biggest hurdle. This is the place where professional advisors can be of great benefit.

Estate Planners and Wealth Managers hold a special relationship with their clients. When a client trusts them with the totality of their family wealth and, by default, they trust their advice to work on their legacy implicitly more.

And that is what can help the client overcome procrastination and begin the most rewarding work of their life, building their Family Narrative