5 minute read

A Guide to Writing a Legacy Letter

Also known as an Ethical Will, legacy letters are a tradition of imparting your history and values to your loved ones. You won’t get writer’s block with this guide!

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

In the realm of estate planning, there is a powerful yet often overlooked tool: the legacy letter. While traditional estate planning documents like Wills and Trusts focus on the distribution of assets, a legacy letter serves a different purpose altogether—it captures who you are, your values, and the wisdom you wish to impart to future generations. At Trust & Will, we understand the importance of leaving behind more than just material wealth. That's why we're here to guide you through the process of crafting your own legacy letter, making it both meaningful and accessible to tomorrow's readers.

What is a Legacy Letter?

A legacy letter, also known as an ethical Will or an emotional Will, is a document that allows you to communicate your values, life lessons, and hopes for the future to your loved ones. Unlike legal documents, which primarily focus on the transfer of assets and fiduciary arrangements, a legacy letter delves into the intangible aspects of your legacy—your beliefs, experiences, and relationships.

The Role of Legacy Letters in Estate Planning

While estate planning typically revolves around the transfer of assets and other important legal matters, incorporating a legacy letter into your plan adds a dimension. It provides an opportunity for you to pass down your story and values, fostering a sense of connection and continuity across generations. Moreover, a legacy letter can help mitigate potential conflicts among heirs by offering insights into your intentions and wishes beyond material wealth. Last but not least, a legacy letter can also convey other important information to future generations, such as family history, any important family stories, philosophies, and more.

Why Include a Legacy Letter in Your Estate Plan?

If you need more convincing, here are some additional reasons to consider including a legacy letter in your estate plan:

1. Preserving Your Legacy: A legacy letter allows you to convey your personal history and create an opportunity for future generations to learn about your life's journey.

2. Connecting with Loved Ones: By sharing your thoughts, values, and experiences, you can strengthen the bonds with your family members and impart valuable life lessons.

3. Providing Comfort and Closure: In times of grief, a legacy letter can offer solace and guidance to your loved ones, serving as a source of comfort and closure.

4. Clarifying Intentions: Expressing your wishes and intentions in a legacy letter can help prevent misunderstandings or disputes among heirs, fostering harmony and understanding.

How to Write a Legacy Letter: A Step-by-Step Guide

The writing process can be hard, no matter what the subject. Individuals often feel as though writing projects that involve writing about themselves is even harder. Not to mention this is your one letter addressing your legacy to future generations -- no pressure!

To help you get started, consider following these steps that break down the process of writing a legacy letter:

Step 1: Reflect on Your Life and Values

Take time to reflect on your life experiences, values, and beliefs. Consider the moments that have shaped you and the lessons you've learned along the way.

Step 2: Identify Your Audience

Think about who you want to address in your legacy letter—whether it's your children, grandchildren, or future generations. Tailor your message accordingly.

Step 3: Choose a Format

Decide on the format of your legacy letter. It can be a handwritten letter, a digital document, a video message, or even a collection of anecdotes and memories.

Step 4: Outline Your Message

Create an outline, outlining the key points you want to convey in your legacy letter. Organize your thoughts coherently, covering aspects such as family history, personal values, life lessons, and hopes for the future.

Step 5: Write from the Heart

Let your authenticity come through in your writing. Be sincere and genuine in expressing your thoughts and emotions, and don't be afraid to share personal anecdotes and memories.

Step 6: Seek Feedback

Consider sharing your draft with trusted friends or family members for feedback. Their insights can help you refine your message and ensure clarity and resonance.

Step 7: Finalize and Preserve

Once you're satisfied with your legacy letter, finalize it and decide how you want to preserve and distribute it. You may choose to include it as part of your estate planning documents or share it directly with your intended recipients.

The Writing Process

Now that it's time to sit down and write your letter, make sure that you don't fall victim to writer's block by using the below prompts and example outline and get the words flowing.

Prompts to Spark Inspiration

Here are some question prompts to consider as you begin writing your legacy letter. These can help inspire the contents of your message.

  1. What are the most significant milestones or moments in your life?

  2. What values and beliefs have guided you throughout your life?

  3. Are there any particular life lessons or wisdom you want to pass on to future generations?

  4. What are your hopes and aspirations for your loved ones?

  5. Is there a particular family tradition or memory you want to share?

Sample Legacy Letter & Outline

Last but not least, here is a detailed sample of a legacy letter outline. Note that just is just an example -- legacy letters can be made your own. There is no right or wrong answer here.

Tell Your Story

Dear [Loved Ones],

[Write an introduction explaining:

  • a little bit about yourself

  • what a legacy letter is

  • who your intended readers are

  • why you chose to write this letter

  • what you hope your readers will glean from the letter]

Share Your Values

[In this section, start off the letter by describing values and principles you've lived by and hope to bestow upon future generations. Provide examples of how these values allowed you to overcome challenges and the twists and turns of fate. This is also a good place to share any family beliefs or traditions.]

Express Gratitude

[Whether it to be to the general audience of your letter or naming special individuals in your life, express your gratitude and how they played a role in your life's journey.]

Reflect on Your Regrets

[It can be difficult to reflect on regrets, but no life is without them. These can be teachable moments for future generations to learn from, especially if you came out on the other side with growth and understanding. Share any particular life lessons or bits of wisdom you have here.]

Offer Blessings and Guidance

[Before concluding, offer any remaining pieces of blessings and guidance you can offer to your loved ones and future generations. Share any family history you wish for them to know, any hopes and aspirations for the future, and any other important lessons or wisdom you wish to impart. Offer final words of love and encouragement.]

With all my love,

[Your Name]

Build Your Timeless Legacy

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the present, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture of the past and the future.

Taking the time to craft a legacy letter is not only beneficial for future generations to come, but it can be very healing for your own soul. Even if you don't consider yourself a great writer, don't let it stop you. When your loved ones discover your letter, grammar and syntax will be the last thing on their minds. What they will truly value is that you departed the world with this gift to them. While estate planning documents are typically focused on legal mechanisms, the legacy letter can be straight from your heart -- although both are forms of expressing love and care for your loved ones. Preserve your personal story, create a timeless legacy, and impart history and wisdom for generations to come.

While we can't help you write your own history, Trust & Will can help you secure your legacy by getting your affairs in order and putting your estate planning documents in place. Whether you wish to create a Will or a Trust-based estate plan, we have you covered. Take our quiz to find out which one of our estate plans meets your needs best, and how to get started.

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