When was the last time you opened a real letter? You know, the kind on paper, written by hand, that someone took the time to fold up and address and stamp and send through the mail? Letters communicate a lot! They might smell a little bit like the person who wrote it. There might be nuances to the paper choice, the way things are worded, or the way the sender signed their name. More than anything, it’s significant that a person took the time to find a pen and paper and sit down and think about the perfect words they meant just for you.
That’s why, at Gift Planning Services, we’ve been encouraging clients to write letters to their loved ones for years. Around here, we call them “Legacy Letters,” but they’re an easy and free way to add a personal touch to a legacy plan.
Thinking about writing a letter to your loved one(s) as part of your legacy plan? Here’s what to think about:
Who Should Get a Legacy Letter?
That’s entirely up to you! Often, clients choose to write letters to their kids and/or heirs, those loved ones who are remembered in their estate plan. We’ve had some share letters immediately as a way of ensuring their values and feelings are communicated well; it can impact the decisions that the family makes together during the life they have left. Some put their letters in a safe with their legacy plan, intending for their kids/heirs to read them after they’re gone. Others have even written a stack of letters for their heirs to open annually, with every estate-related disbursement, or at key life milestones like a graduation, wedding, or birth of a child.
Some also choose to write letters to their personal representative/executor, the guardian(s) they’ve selected for their children/pets, or their power(s) of attorney; these can communicate the heart behind some of the specific decisions they’ll be asked to carry out on your behalf. You can also choose to write a letter to organizations you’ve remembered in your plan, communicating your appreciation for their work and how you intend for your gift to be used. It’s completely up to you, and there’s no wrong answer.
What is Included in a Legacy Letter?
That’s up to you, too! We often tell clients that their plan contains a lot of “whats”: what do you own, what do you want to happen to your assets after you’re gone, what organizations do you want to support through your estate, etc. A Legacy Letter can communicate the “why” behind your estate plan: why do you get up every day, and why do you value the things that you do?
Here’s a list of questions you could answer in a Legacy Letter:
- What do you want your legacy to be?
- What is your life’s passion OR how would you describe your life’s work?
- What have been your most treasured memories? (Or, perhaps your most treasured memories of the person you’re writing to…)
- Are there any specific events, experiences, or people that have shaped you?
- How do you hope you’ve impacted others in your life OR how do you hope you’re remembered?
- If you’d been involved in a specific charitable cause, or worship in a certain way or place, is that something that you hope they carry on after you’re gone?
- What is your hope for your family’s/loved one’s future?
- If you are a parent, what has been your favorite part of that role? What has your child taught you, or are there attributes that you’d like to affirm or encourage in them?
- If you are married, what is your marriage based on? What brought the two of you together, and what are the values that form the foundation of your home/family?
- Do you have any significant places/verses/sayings that are important to your family, that you’d want to weave in?
- Do you have any significant memories/stories that you’d like to share?
- What’s an important life lesson, or words of wisdom, that you’d like to pass on?
- What achievement(s) are you most proud of?
- Are there any meaningful possessions/assets included in your estate plan that you want to be sure to explain or call out? What should the recipient(s) know about them?
- How do you hope your kids/heirs’ inheritance impacts their lives OR how do you hope they use it?
- What’s your cheesiest joke? Favorite movie line or song lyric? Favorite saying you’ve been known to interject? (This can be fun, too!)
Grab a notebook and start writing ideas down. There’s no timeline for when a Legacy Letter has to be completed, and you can keep adding to it!
Another option is to record your Legacy Letter in an audio file or in video format, which is something we can help you create through our Creative Storytelling Packages. Reach out if you’re interested in learning more! Here’s a great example of one Legacy Letter video we helped create for friends who wanted to record a message for their young son, Jackson, to view when he gets older:
As you can see, Greg and Krista took the time to document the values and foundational faith on which their marriage, and family, are built. They speak words of encouragement to Jackson, and it’s something he’ll cherish forever.
Legacy Letters can be an incredible part of your estate plan: they add a personal element to your final wishes, and they cost nothing! We encourage you to take time to write or record these letters and keep them in a safety deposit box with your Will and other important documents.
Bonus! If you want a a PDF guide for writing your own legacy letter, download our cheat sheet below. Happy writing!
About the Author: Monique has a background in ministry and higher education, bringing years of experience to the Gift Planning Services team. She has degrees in journalism, Spanish, English literature/writing, and strategic leadership. She loves hearing people’s stories and figuring out ways to use creative storytelling to capture personalities, illustrate complex ideas, and inspire action.