As I have posted before, estate planning should be about more than just passing on financial wealth; it should also capture those intangible and uniquely personal, spiritual and intellectual assets such as a person’s values, experiences, and thoughts about the loved ones he or she is leaving behind. In our office, we help our clients capture and preserve those family wealth assets, using a tool we call  "Priceless Conversations." The following article, by Kathy Hansen and posted on her blog, A Storied Career, discusses the importance and methods of capturing those stories:

I so wish I had captured more of my family’s stories, especially those of my dad and his five brothers and sisters who are now all gone but one. In her article in the Christian Science Monitor, Marilyn Gardner writes about senior citizens who are ensuring their stories will live on.

Gardner cites Hedrick Ellis, who hired a personal historian to interview his parents.

“You hear these stories over the years, but nobody ever really gets around to writing them down,” says Mr. Ellis of Arling­ton, Mass. “This seemed like an easy and practical way of capturing them.”

Gardner quotes Paula Stahel, president of the Association of Personal Historians, who niotes “an increase in the number of elders who want to be sure their stories are handed down.” Another personal historian, David O’Neil, is quoted as observing that “it’s always a baby boomer who has children and aging parents. They look at their parents and their children and wonder, ‘What are my children going to remember about my own parents, and how do I capture and preserve their life stories?’ As the World War II generation is passing away, there are a lot of efforts to record their stories.”

Gardner writes that “many people don’t think they have stories to tell,” but most find they have much more to relate than they imagined.

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Gardner cites Project Storykeeper, the mission of which “is to preserve our families’ heritage. We believe that by capturing the life stories of our oldest and wisest citizens future generations can benefit from a wealth of experience and wisdom.” The project provides certified audio-biography training, support and audio tools to StoryKeepers “to preserve the past, enrich the present and strengthen the future — one story at a time.” StoryKeepers are people who record life stories and connect the family to hear them.

Dennis Stack, founder of Project Storykeeper, offers tips in the extended portion iof this entry for interviewing folks about their stories.

The “Family Wealth Legacy” of this entry’s title comes from a blog entry in Family Wealth Secrets Online Magazine.

“It’s about capturing the assets that are most often lost when someone dies … the intellectual, spiritual and human assets that make up a great majority of our family’s wealth and passing them on as well,” writes blogger and attorney Alexis Neely. She urges a “Family Wealth Legacy Interview process” at the end of planning an estate with a loved near the end of his or her life to “help you capture the most valuable family wealth you have and pass that on for successive generations by building a legacy library that will be far more valuable than any dollars you could ever leave behind.”

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Dennis Stack’s Tips for Interviewing people about Their Stories:

  • Keep the process simple. The best stories come out when people are comfortable.
  • Know your equipment. Regardless of the type of device you use, know how it works. If you aren’t fumbling with the equipment, storytellers will forget they are being recorded and just be themselves.
  • Not everyone wants to be on camera. Many storytellers feel uncomfortable in front of a camera.
  • Really good stories cannot be told to a wall. Storytellers need to see, hear, and feel the reaction to their stories.
  • When recording stories, keep it one on one. Too many people in the room can cramp the storyteller’s style and can make recording difficult because of “cross-talk” and “overtalk,” which end up as garble on the recording.
  • Keep interview segments to 30 to 45 minutes. It’s much better to have several short sessions than a couple marathons. The time between the interviews (one or two days at most) is important to the process, allowing the storyteller to reminisce more deeply. Each successive session becomes more engaging.
  • Don’t ask the deep-meaning questions too soon. If you let the stories develop and unfold, the storyteller’s ability to explain nuanced values and wisdom will come naturally.
  • Keep the stories short. It’s easier to manage smaller audio files, so be ready to stop and start the recorder to mark each segment. Stories can even have chapters, which reduces the time of each recording. Try to keep stories under five minutes each.