All Insights

December 20, 2023

Giving Gifts of Lasting Value

By: Matt Ellis, CPWA®
Founding Partner, President

The holiday season is upon us, and for much of the Western world, it has also become synonymous with gift giving. Retailers worldwide encourage all of us to generously engage in the “spirit” of the holidays. Often with the use of leverage, Americans will invest a meaningful amount of their annual discretionary budgets to buy gifts for their loved ones.

As the father of three adult daughters, I have participated in, and will continue to participate in, the gift-giving aspect of the holidays—more so now as the most beautiful granddaughter in the world (and two more on the way) provides the perfect excuse! That said, after the immediate excitement and pleasure of giving and receiving those gifts, I know that many of them will lose their luster and ultimately provide no lasting benefit. There’s no need to be sad, it’s just the nature of tangible things—that over time their novelty and utility are transitory. 

The Gift of Experiences
However, there are gifts we can give that are profoundly valuable and that can endure long after this holiday season has come and gone, perhaps across generations. I’m referring to the intangible gifts of shared experience and memory. I remember many years ago, when I was a neophyte in the wealth management business, a very wise client gave me her view of estate planning. She said she was far more concerned with leaving her children and grandchildren memories of experiences shared with her than a monetary windfall. One did not preclude the other, but her priority was on the shared experiences as it would be valuable to her loved ones long after she was gone.

Memories of shared experiences are timeless and often more valuable to the recipient as time progresses. I have taken her suggestion to heart over the years and can affirm its validity. I don’t recall my children ever discussing a tangible gift they received years later, but we constantly talk about vacations and events that we shared as a family, whetting our appetite to spend more time making memories. I strongly recommend the investment.

Capturing Memories
Another lasting gift that is tragically overlooked by many of us is the gift of capturing important memories and experiences. They are often the most formative, molding who we are as people and the values which we have learned, or which have guided or sustained us over our lives.

This hit home with me a few weeks ago as my wife and I watched “The Pacific.” For those who have not seen it, “The Pacific” is based on the true stories of several Marines in World War II during the Pacific campaign, sort of a sequel to “Band of Brothers” and by the same producers. The episode on the Battle of Tarawa had a profound effect on me—my grandfather was a Company Commander during the operation and was wounded during the fighting. I remember him telling me that his best friend was killed just seconds after hitting the beach, a moment that deeply impacted the rest of his life. Since then, every generation of our family has served in the Navy or Marine Corps, with our fourth generation consisting of four Marine Corps veterans, three currently serving as Marine Corps officers. You could say it had a profound impact on the history of our family as well.

“GrandBob,” as we called him, loved to tell stories, and many of them I can still recall, but the details fade with time. How I wish that I could go back and record those stories and ask him questions that a teenager was not wise enough to ask at the time. What a valued treasure that would have been to our family! 

Ethical Wills
That personal reflection leads to another gift recommendation for the holiday season: creating what is often referred to as an Ethical Will. An ethical will’s purpose is to pass on to loved one’s your family history, life lessons, family values and ethical philosophy, and accrued wisdom and experiences. It is not limited by any particular structure and is not a legal document, unlike a traditional will. In many ways, its purpose is to provide family memories and context. Ethical wills provide you the opportunity to capture and explain in an enduring format what has traditionally been a family oral history. It is a story that you can create for your children and generations to follow that allows you to pass on what you have learned and what you value, long after you are gone. It can be as simple as writing a letter to your children, recording a video of important memories surrounding events, successes and struggles, or even dreams that you have for your children and grandchildren. As a personal testament to this, I know my entire family treasures a recording my father made about how he and my mother met and fell in love. 

At Fidelis Capital, we can work with our clients to build and digitally store their ethical will, though there are abundant resources available to help families who want to create their own. As an easy place to start, get out your phone (or device of choice) and spend some time retelling family stories this holiday season. I encourage you to invest time in developing a gift that could have a profound and lasting impact on generations of your family. It will be an investment that your family will likely cherish far more than anything wrapped up with a bow on top, and its value will only increase over time.

With this, from our Fidelis Capital family to yours, we wish you a joyous and blessed holiday season.

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