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How to Create and Share Your Lasting Legacy of Love

By Kathleen M. Rehl March 28, 2020 Mindset

Several years ago, my friend, Arlene, finalized her estate documents. Those important papers included her legal will, revocable trust, living will, and powers of attorney for financial and medical matters.

She also set up direct beneficiary instructions for her retirement account, US savings bonds, and local bank account.

Estate Planning Is a Necessity

These wise actions made sure her financial assets would be distributed according to her wishes after death. Arlene clearly defined which people and charitable organizations would benefit from her estate.

She was glad her details were in order, but she said it “wasn’t fun doing all this.” She continued, “When I’m gone and my stuff is all divided up, there won’t be much for my family to remember who and what I really am!”

Passing on a Lifetime of Treasures

My friend told me what she cherished most from her mother, who died 10 years before, was a collection of letters written in the final years of her mom’s life. Yes, Arlene received a small financial inheritance, but she treasured the essence of her mom, preserved in those writings to her daughter.

In other words, she knew that traditional estate planning was essential to pass on her “stuff” in an organized manner, but my friend wanted more than just a focus on the financial assets and possessions accumulated during a lifetime.

She wanted a way to pass on treasures worth more to her children and grandchildren. She hoped to enrich their lives in special, lasting ways.

I felt the same. Sure, my kids would remember some things about me after I was gone, but I wanted to give them more than a few scattered memories, along with my possessions and money.

Searching for good ideas about how to do this, I found a book by Barry K. Baines, M.D. – Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper. That gave me initial guidance to think through what matters most in my life.

Following an open-ended process suggested by Dr. Baines, I started with a blank computer screen and began writing my stories. Since I like to write, this was enjoyable.

Over the next couple of weeks, I created my first draft. However, I realized that this process probably wouldn’t be the right approach for Arlene. She would prefer a more structured method that she could complete in limited time and be satisfied with it.

The Legacy LifePrint Approach

With the permission of Dr. Baines, I adapted several of his ideas and added others of my own to create the Legacy LifePrint™ approach. It’s a way to share your values, hopes, dreams, memories, stories, and more with family and friends as your lasting legacy of love for them.

Just like your fingerprints are unique, so is your Legacy LifePrint™. No one else in the world has the same set of ridges and lines that you have in your life. The lasting quality of your Legacy LifePrint™ is a wonderful way to identify and communicate what makes you unique.

Following instructions in the Legacy Lifeprint™ Letters & Stories booklet (download freely), you also can easily create a document to be shared with your family and friends.

Arlene spent a few hours with this booklet over several days, ending with her Legacy Letter. She liked the results and wanted to share this letter with her adult children during an upcoming holiday gathering. They loved it!

Indeed, one daughter said she planned to write her own legacy letter for her young daughters. (Many folks prefer to wait until after their passing for their letter to be shared with family and friends. It’s a very personal choice.)

Life Transitions May Encourage Writing Your Legacy LifePrint Letter

There may be times when it’s beneficial to create your Legacy Letter: marriage, birth of a child or grandchild, divorce, widowhood, remarriage, geographic move, change of career, retirement, death of a spouse, health challenge, end-of-life, special travel, etc. These stages may give you insights that can be valuable for those who will read your document.

I believe that clarifying and sharing the meaning of your life is important for your loved ones. It’s also a gift for you, the writer. By reflecting upon the past and recording thoughts on paper, you learn about yourself, ponder what you stand for, and enrich your own life.

My Mother’s Legacy Letter to Our Family

My Mom wrote her Legacy Letter for our family shortly before she died. She asked that this be read during her memorial service. It’s filled with Mother’s wisdom, gratitude, and deep love for family. It was meaningful for all of us.

A couple of times a year, I reread Mom’s Legacy Letter because her sage advice still speaks to me. How many times do you think I’ve reread her legal will lately? Never.

I wrote my Legacy Letter several years ago, after the death of my late spouse. Since then I’ve updated my document several times. Currently, I’m working on extended stories, based on important themes in my life.

I expect the result to be a little memoir book including about 15 stories, each about two or three pages in length. (Some of these themes are suggested in Writing Your Legacy, by Richard Campbell and Cheryl Svensson.)

Steps to Write Your Legacy Letters and Stories

  • Download the free booklet, Legacy Lifeprint™ Letters & Stories, and skim it.
  • Read through the headings on each page and select those that have meaning for you. Topics include balance in life, learning, family and friends, honesty, humor, giving, good, mistakes, spirituality, lessons, reflections, hopes, love, forgiveness, and others.
  • Read the individual statements on the pages you select. When you find ones that fit you, put a checkmark beside them. You may edit any phrase, adding or crossing out words. Add additional statements if you like.
  • Think about your unique way of saying things. Write your thoughts in the extra space on each page.
  • Combine sentences on a separate page to be your Legacy Letter for loved ones and friends. (You may want to write various versions of your letter for different individuals.)
  • Decide to share your Legacy Letter with family and friends soon or after you’ve passed. Also, keep a copy of your Legacy Letter with your other estate documents.

Consider creating a longer Legacy Story based on several themes noted at the end of Legacy Lifeprint™ Letters & Stories. Write two or three pages about each topic you select. Combine these and add pictures if available. The resulting personal memoir can be a cherished gift for family and friends forever.

What end of life documents have you prepared? Do you have a Legacy Letter? How did you compose it? What did you include in it? Please share your preparation process!

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The Author

Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, wrote the award-winning book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. She owned Rehl Financial Advisors for 18 years before an encore career empowering widows. Now “reFired,” Rehl writes legacy stories and assists nonprofits. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, and more. She’s adjunct faculty at The American College of Financial Services.

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