Words of the Buddha:
In five ways should a mother and father as the eastern direction be respected by a child: ‘I will support them who supported me; I will do my duty to them; I will maintain the family lineage and tradition; I will be worthy of my inheritance; and I will make donations on behalf of dead ancestors.’
And, the mother and father so respected reciprocate with compassion in five ways: by restraining you from wrongdoing, guiding you towards good actions, training you in a profession, supporting the choice of a suitable spouse, and in due time, handing over the inheritance.
In this way, the eastern direction is protected and made peaceful and secure.
The ways in which children can honor their parents, even in their absence (from death or other circumstances) include “maintaining family lineage and tradition, being worthy of an inheritance, and making donations on behalf of dead ancestors”. What do these instructions mean in a modern culture? If you’re lucky enough to come from a family in which honesty, respect and love are dominant, then these form your lineage and tradition. This is your real inheritance, in a truer sense than any financial inheritance. If you are not so fortunate, then it may be up to you to find in your family experience those things that you want to have as your inheritance. Every family has some gifts that are passed down: stories, traditions, skills, family heirlooms, recipes, songs, etc. In my own family it has taken time for me to see the kindness beneath some rough surfaces. The idea here is to recognize the good things you’ve received, material or not, and to pass them along to others. Give your parents a reason to be proud of you.
The concept of honoring one’s ancestors is an ancient one. If we look back a few generations, it’s clear that we are each part of a big and varied tribe. In this sense, we are never alone; our family is always with us. Rejecting this idea outright may cause us to feel isolated and disconnected from society, which can lead to negative behaviors, speech and thoughts. The most important offering we can make to dead relatives is to be inspired by them and to act in ways that we think would honor them.
The whole question of inheritance of money or property is not much discussed in our societies, but it has an effect. I know of one family in which the patriarch held annual meetings of all his heirs, for the social interaction, and to make clear what everyone could expect, in the current year and upon his death. It struck me as an exceedingly kind and mature way to deal with the question of inheritance.
Some people are so reluctant to believe they will ever die, that they never get around to making a will or making their wishes known. The result can be a real mess for those left behind. So, regardless of the size of your income or assets, do your relatives a favor and make a will. Another act of kindness toward your family is the creation of a medical directives document detailing your wishes in the event that you become incapacitated, including saying who you’d want to make decisions for you. These actions could help you focus your thoughts about what your legacy to your family might be.
Give it a think: what have you received, and what will you pass on?