Legacy letters are a written set of directions to follow for living an ethical life. They are also referred to as ethical wills. It allows you to express a set of values or morals to your loved ones in a way that simply cannot be accomplished as effectively through a standard estate plan.
- It is not a legally binding document.
- It has no effect upon the distribution of assets from a parent’s estate.
- It has no impact upon a trust or a power of attorney.
- Often a legacy letter will make some reference to the drafter’s religious or spiritual beliefs.
- It can offer some wishes or blessings to children, the children’s generation, or society, as a whole.
- It may share some of the mistakes that the drafter has made in his or her life.
- A legacy letter can stress the value of a college education.
- The letter should explicitly state that it does not change your intent regarding any estate planning documents that have already been drafted.
In an article published back in May, 2010 in Social Work Today, Meg Newhouse, PhD, CPCC writes, "according to psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD, most people on their deathbeds want to know only three things: Have I given and received love? Did I live my life or someone else’s? Have I left the world a little better than I found it?"
She goes on to state that "legacy is the flip side of purpose, and legacy and purpose nourish and reinforce each other. Our most authentic and powerful legacies come from living “on purpose,” which is offering our unique gifts out of love and guided by our core essence. Newhouse explains three types of legacies:
• Private legacies (tangible): Examples include heirlooms and other family treasures, such as recipes and letters, art and craft creations, written or audio-visual records, family histories, memoirs, ethical wills, money, and real property.
• Private legacies (intangible): Individual actions such as mentoring, teaching, coaching, counseling, informal conversations, and caregiving, plus simply being who we are can have enormous impact, both directly and indirectly through ripples, for good or ill, intentionally and unintentionally.
• Collective/group legacies: Many prefer forms such as volunteering, civic engagement, political action, social entrepreneurship, specifically formed groups for making charitable contributions or addressing a social need because they multiply the impact and provide essential social connections.
Intentionally giving concrete legacies of the heart, such as ethical wills, family stories, or annotated treasured possessions, while older adults are alive, can solidify, deepen, and heal relationships with those they love.