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Earlier this week, Bank of America’s wealth management subsidiary released a report on attitudes toward legacy planning in America.  Based on a survey of more than six hundred high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth adults, the report, U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth, found a significant generation gap among wealthy Americans’ financial planning. 

But it’s probably not what you think.

In fact, the study concluded that in their attitudes toward saving, planning for the future, and the central importance of leaving a family legacy to future generations, older Americans and their adult grandchildren have much more in common than was previously imagined.  And even more striking, they are much more similar to each other in this regard than they are to the Baby Boom generation between them.

“Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers and the generation older than the Baby Boomers are closely aligned in the importance of intergenerational wealth transfer,” says U.S. Trust’s press release on the study.  “With greater similarities in attitude to the generation before the Baby Boom, Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers are focused on the needs of the family…including leaving a financial inheritance to their children.”

Reading this caused me to wonder whether Generations X & Y may also care more about other aspects of family heritage than conventional wisdom (and their parents) assume.  I’ve often heard parents and estate advisors say that the younger generation isn’t sentimental or interested in old fashioned things.  And it’s true that few 22 year-olds living with room mates and trying to land an entry level job would have much use for Grandma’s silver or Uncle Joe’s mahogany dinner table…right now.  But I suspect that’s more a reflection of context than character.

How your college aged daughter lives today will almost certainly look quite different from her life as a young mother or middle aged matriarch.  And her emotional ties to the family and its heirlooms may be stronger than you imagine. 

Remember that your family is her family; your legacy is her legacy. 

This is not license to save every scrap of paper, stick of furniture and broken teacup.  The last thing I want to encourage is hoarding “just in case” a grandchild wakes up 50 years from now wondering what happened to his dad’s bottle cap collection.  But I do urge you to find a way to talk calmly and openly about what matters to you and hear the same from your younger relatives without judgment or assumptions. 

You may discover that the generation of the future is a lot more interested in honoring the past than you think.

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