Why life lessons might be a better inheritance than cash

Lawyer David York at TEDxSaltLakeCity (Photo: TEDxSaltLakeCity)

Lawyer David York at TEDxSaltLakeCity (Photo: TEDxSaltLakeCity)

David York is a lawyer who knows a lot about leaving a legacy. The estate planning expert helps people plan out how and what they’re going to pass on to family, friends – and the world – after they die; he challenges you to think about that as well. If the first thing that comes to mind is money, you might want to rethink that, he says in a talk at TEDxSaltLakeCity. When we think of inheritance, we think currency, and the bigger the amount, the better. “Our fundamental assumptions [about wealth and inheritance] are fundamentally wrong,” York says. “Human capital” is what we need to pass on.

One of David York's slides at TEDxSaltLakeCity (Photo: David York)

One of David York’s slides at TEDxSaltLakeCity (Photo: David York)

In this case, “human capital” is the wealth of life experience that includes”Our skills and abilities, our knowledge, our collective narrative wisdom.” This is the bread and butter of meaningful wealth transfer.

Estate planning lawyer David York advises his clients to document their core values and life story as part of their estate. (Photo: David York)

Lawyer David York advises his clients to document their core values and life story as part of their estate. (Photo: David York)

How to do that? He has some advice:

“Before you make a list of you assets, make a list of your core values,” York says. “What drives you? What motivates you?

… Before you write your estate plan, write your life story. Detail your successes. Capture your failures. Share all those things you wish you had known [when you were younger] and pass those on like you would your most treasured tangible possessions.”

York warns of the danger of “[focusing] primarily on the transfer of financial capital, but with very little human capital,” a situation he believes leads to inheritances that often breed difficult family conversations, animosity, and a sense of confusion and aimlessness for heirs — checks handed over without meaning or direction. He quotes one recipient of a large financial inheritance: “Inherited wealth was a real handicap to happiness.”

So, as you plan out your estate, think of wealth that might foster happiness.

For more, watch York’s whole talk below:


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge with respect to a subject that has caused the destruction of so many families I know. My father passed when I was 16, and he was 44. I was left with a huge amount of responsibility managing the assets that he left behind, it was certainly challenging, especially considering I was also the carer of my mother. My father’s core values of wanting to achieve and learn more each day, striving for excellence, with integrity and a faith in God, has kept me energised throughout my life. I am most grateful to have learnt at 16, that passing on financial wealth does not create a healthy self esteem, nor can it make you happy. Happiness comes from within.

    • David York

      What an amazing story. Thanks so much for sharing that. So glad you could see the real wealth you were given. Keep striving to pass that on to others.

  2. David’s TEDxSaltLakeCity talk was highly engaging for our audience. Several attendees commented through our event app, thanking David for his talk and sharing that it had helped them to more deeply appreciate the wealth of knowledge and values their parents and given to them and recognize how valuable that was in shaping them as members of humanity.
    Thanks David! And thanks TEDx Innovations!

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