As many readers of this column know, we collect positive stories having to do with the relationship between trustees and beneficiaries. Twenty-five of the best stories were published in TrustWorthy—New Angles on Trusts from Beneficiaries and Trustees.
One story didn’t make it into the book. Not because it was unremarkable, or less than delightful, but because it didn’t involve trusts! But the tale does involve inheritances—of the emotional as well as the financial variety.
The story tells of a beautiful Christmas tradition. Co-author Kathy Wiseman and I heard from two points of view—that of the mother and that of the daughter. Mom’s slightly abridged story appears below.1
Here’s what Mom said: “We started blessings, as we called it, with our kids when they were very young. At Christmas time, we asked each of the kids to write a blessing to each other and to their mom and their dad. They all went into a big pot. Then we sat around the fire and sorted them out and each of us read the blessings we had received from the others.
“There was no requirement or expectation of what the kids were supposed to say. They could say anything they wanted. Even things like, ‘I was really mad at you because you took my ball, but now I’m not mad anymore.’ It would be that type of thing. As they grew older and they got more perspective, the blessings became more intimate. Very touching.
“I think that has made a massive difference in the ability of our kids to talk to each other and for us to talk to them. They got used to telling each other how they really felt about something. They talk to each other, they know what is happening in each other’s lives in a very personal, intimate kind of way.
“Now that our kids are adults, before they arrive we sit down and write out three or four things for them to be thinking of. Such things as how are things going with your family and at your place of employment, where you are in your life, this kind of thing. The questions give everybody a chance to think a little bit about what we might be talking about.
“They all come over and we have breakfast for them. Then we sit down, and everybody gets a chance to say what they want to say about how things are going in their lives. They’re very forthcoming. They’re really honest.
“One Christmas when we were doing our blessings, we told our kids that we wanted them to have their inheritances while they could really use it and while we were alive so we could enjoy watching them.
“Here’s how that came about. First of all, I guess we did pretty well in starting businesses. We decided that as healthy as we are (and we are very healthy), our life expectancies are long ones. We said, ‘Well geez, the kids are going to be older than we are now before they see a dime.’ That didn’t make sense to either of us. So we decided four or five years ago to start downloading wealth, as we called it, so that we could see, experience what our kids are doing.
“We had a conversation about not wanting to make their life super easy. We feel and felt than they needed to stretch themselves and take risks and get their noses bloody a time or two. We didn’t want to take those kinds of life experiences away from them. At the same time, we wanted to shift some assets down to them...
“Our kids are all very solid, very competent. They all have families. Our grandkids are being raised in the most wonderful way. The grandkids themselves are exploring their talents in various ways. We encourage that type of thing.
“So we give each of them a check. We do it based on each person’s needs and good common sense. Not one of those kids of ours cares whatsoever about what somebody else gets.
“We made a fundamental decision that the only generation we are concerned about is our own kids. Our grandkids, it’s their responsibility to figure that stuff out.
We just don’t feel like we want to be controlling down the line. We want to only work with the first generation. They can work with their kids.
“That goes along with our philosophy that our kids are quite capable.”
Families—assuming the planning, travel and shipping details have all been dealt with—have been known to become very thoughtful as their respective holy day or days neared. Could this season be a good opportunity for you and yours to discuss topics that benefit from an extra measure of thoughtfulness and connection?
1. The entire story, including the daughter’s narrative, may be found at http://navigatingthetrustscape.com/index.php/publications/beneficiary-and-trustee-positive-story-project/the-positive-story-project-stories/53-our-family-blessings.