How do you define “family fortune”? Most people say money but that\’s not the only thing you\’re “rich” in. “Family fortune” can mean anything from collections such as spoons and stamps to photographs, written material (bible, poems, diaries, letters), documents or records (marriage certificates, awards, military discharge papers), handmade items (quilts, needlework), antiques/art, jewelry, even every day items like kitchen utensils. “Family fortune” can also mean family relationships, family history/memories/traditions, the family reputation/privacy (family “secrets”) – even the knowledge & experience you want to share with your kids.

When families get caught up in Eldercare (and current events) we often forget we all have other fortunes that are non-financial and important to us. Worse yet, when we forget our other “family fortunes”, we run the risk of losing them. How sad it would be to lose any of the things we value because we don\’t realize how important they are to us as we focus on eldercare responsibilities. Family fortune means different things to different people. Here then (and in upcoming columns) are the 7 (non-financial) secrets to saving the family fortune.

The first secret to saving the family fortune is to do some soul searching and figure out what is important to you.

When I ask “what\’s important to you” most people say “I want everyone to get along” or “I want everything (eldercare responsibilities, distribution of family heirlooms, etc) to be ‘fair\’” – which is lovely but what does that really mean?

To answer this question, make a list of what is important to you.

For example: It is important to me

  • to preserve family relationships
  • to preserve and maintain the family reputation
  • to preserve family history
  • to keep family keepsakes in the family
  • hat relationships are maintained with all family members
  • what the “neighbors” think
  • that the family history and traditions are passed down to future generations
  • preserve the family\’s financial future
  • that I don\’t feel guilty
  • to be a good example to my children
  • etc.

For example: It is important to me that

  • s/he lives out her/his years in own home
  • s/he lives where s/he will be safe
  • all family members share caregiving duties equally
  • the family member that lives closest provides the caregiving
  • the family member that lives closest makes the caregiving decisions
  • the family member that lives closest makes the decisions with input from other sibs
  • no decision about her/him is made unless we all agree
  • the one doing all the care giving should be the one to make all the decisions about her/his care
  • the one handling all the finances should be the one to make all the decisions about her/his finances
  • all family members talk to each other about decisions before they are presented to her/him
  • the family member who puts in the most care giving time should be the one to make the care giving decisions
  • all her/his money should go for her/his care
  • money is preserved for her/his heirs
  • do what s/he wants regardless of the expense
  • do what\’s in his/her best interest regardless of the expense
  • etc.

As you\’re writing down what\’s important to you, keep in mind that there\’s no right or wrong answer. The most important thing is to be honest. The purpose is to determine what is important to you – not what you think should be important. If it\’s how you feel, it\’s vital to identify it now. If you don\’t, you will run into problems later because the deeper in you get the more your “true” feelings will come out. After you write down what\’s important to you, go back and look at what you wrote and identify what is most important and what is least important to you. Spend as much time as necessary on this exercise because the results will be the basis for all future decisions.

The next step is to get your aging loved one(s) and your siblings to do this exercise, too, and to share their answers with each other. However, the point of sharing the information is so that everyone knows where everyone is coming from – not so that you can convince them to change what they wrote. If someone wrote something that confuses or concerns you, ask them (in a non accusatory way) to explain the item(s) on their list (and be prepared to do this yourself). You may well discover that each person wrote the same thing but said it differently. Discussing the responses will help you understand where everyone is coming from – even if there are differences – thus avoiding surprises later. In addition, having your parents participate will enable you to refer to their list when coming up with and/or implementing decisions later.

Please bear in mind that it is possible that a sibling or your aging loved one may not want to do the exercise or share their list. That\’s ok. At least you will know what is important to you and those that do participate. Remember, everything you do and every decision you make after this will depend on your answer – so again, spend the time and be honest.

You now have the first (non-financial) secret to saving the family fortune. Tune in next month for secret number 2!

© Copyright AgeWiseLiving® 2008 You can find information about “The Ultimate Caregiver\’s Survival Guide”: The step by step blueprint to resolving your eldercare issues by choice, not crisis WORKBOOK, AgeWiseLiving® seminars and free teleseminars, and to sign up for Barbara\’s free monthly newsletter at or by calling toll-free (877) AGE-WISE. Barbara E. Friesner is an author and the country\’s leading Generational Coach and expert on issues affecting seniors and their families. She is an adjunct professor at Cornell University, where she created and teaches “Seniors Housing Management” at Cornell\’s School of Hotel Administration.

Barbara Friesner is the country's leading Generational Coach and an expert on issues affecting Seniors and their families. She has been interviewed for Advising Boomers magazine, featured on NY1 TV's Focus on Seniors and Coping with Caregiving on wsRadio. She has also been quoted in newspapers and magazines across the country and her articles have been published in the CAPSule, the Children of Aging Parent's newsletter.