The high-tech entrepreneurs at the recent Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit conference are developing products and services largely targeted at an elderly population and their adult children. One of the presentations was by Katy Flick, vice president of research for the demographic consulting firm Age Wave.

Her talk was based on a survey on end-of-life and legacy issues. One question stood out: “What is the most important thing to pass on to heirs and loved ones?” The answer by 59% of respondents was passing on values and life lessons. That result was followed by fulfilling wishes and instructions (17%); financial assets and real estate (17%); and personal possessions with emotional value (8%).

Money was far down the list. “Our legacies are about the values and life lessons we pass on to our families,” said Flick. “It’s about the people around you.”

There are a number of ways to capture the values and stories from one generation to the next. Many family stories are passed on during conversations with parents and grandparents. But these conversations can get lost with time. That’s why more people are creating formal records often called an ethical will, a legacy letter or a living legacy.

The basic idea is to express to your family and future family members what stories you would like to pass on; insights you have gained from experience; and the values you hold dear. “Think of it as a ‘love letter’ of sorts, written to your family, friends, and the community at large,” writes Dr. Andrew Weil. “It is a formal way for you to share your values, life lessons, blessings, hopes for the future, love and forgiveness.”

The legacy letter can be written, videotaped or recorded. There are plenty of resources to tap into to get started. High-tech entrepreneurs are creating platforms and formats to encourage living­-legacy story­telling. Many libraries offer classes on how to capture your life story. Some families hire personal historians to interview aging family members. Of course, the legacy document or recording isn’t legally binding.

Speaking of legal documents, another part of Flick’s talk emphasized something we know: Most people don’t have their estates in order. The survey had only 18% of respondents well-prepared for the end of life, with “well prepared” defined as having a will, an advance health care directive and durable power of attorney. If you are among the 82% who haven’t lined up those three key legal documents, make an appointment to do so now.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor to “Marketplace” on public radio and a commentator.