When I think about leaving a legacy, one of the first things that comes to mind is an article from a magazine in the 1990s that talked about a $1 trillion inheritance windfall for Canadians. The article suggested baby boomers in the US stood to inherit $10 trillion dollars over the next several decades. Canadians, the article mused, would inherit $1 trillion. The estimate was later updated in 1999 by a study from Center on Wealth and Philanthropy of Boston College. Schervish and Haven’s report cited the oft quoted $41 trillion as the figure to be passed from one generation to the next in the United States.

The initial article and later research study served to focus my five year quest for a doctorate of ministry in stewardship studies (church fundraising). It also served as a touchstone for a career in fundraising.

snowy trees

Initially, I read that one in four baby boomers would receive an inheritance. I phoned home to ask if I was one of the lucky twenty-five percent. I was assured that, no, I would not be one of those who would inherit. We were a family of modest means. There would be nothing to inherit.

It seemed to me that my father’s goal was a balanced financial sheet – all income spent on housing, food, family, and charity during his lifetime. It seemed like his hope, financially speaking, was to write one last check on the day he died and to have the check bounce.

More importantly, my father also mentioned that we could talk about many things, but money, his money or their money, was not one of those things. Money was a private matter. My doctoral thesis was centered on facilitating an intergenerational discussion about inheritance in families that do talk about money.

So there I was intrigued by an idea of $1 trillion inheritance and unable to talk about it with family – at least my father. I understood there was to be no great financial windfall in my future, and the conversations I would have about legacy gifts would be had with donors, not my family of origin.

Back in the day, it never occurred to me to even think about an inheritance. We were a normal family. I had food to eat, a fine roof over my head, a house full of loving parents, siblings, and friends to play with. Life was filled with the day-to-day business of learning and living. It wasn’t until much later, when I was older, that I learned I had inherited many things from my mother and father. My height, hair colour, and mannerisms were from my family, proof I was not adopted. I inherited my work ethic, holiday traditions, church attendance, love of fly fishing, and family values.

I do not ever expect to see any money, but I know I am already rich.


What about you?  Have you had the conversation with your parents? Your kids? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts on this intergenerational transfer.

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Next week, the younger generation steps in: Julia and her thoughts on what it means to leave a legacy.

P.S. The numbers may be old, but they’re still good.

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