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5 Easy Steps to Write a Legacy Letter for Family and Friends

By Kathleen M. Rehl July 05, 2023 Family

My Great Grandmother, Nettie Green, was born in 1877. Here’s a photo of her and “Pa” taken on their wedding day in 1897. Don’t they look happy! Stoic was the style back then.

Before Great Gram got hitched at age 20, as they used to say, she was a teacher in a one-room rural Iowa schoolhouse. After marriage, she wasn’t allowed to teach. That was written in her contract. As a teacher, she called her readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic classes to order with a little bell. When I became a public-school teacher many years later, Gram gave her bell to me.

Unfortunately, that bell is about all I have from my great grandmother, along with a few photographs. Today I want to ask her so many questions about her life long ago… but she’s gone. I wish my great grandmother would have written a Legacy Letter.

My Mother’s Legacy Letter

My mom wrote a Legacy Letter about a month before she died. Her message begins:

“To you, my family, who are reading this letter, please know how important you are to me and how much I love you. Life has been such a fascinating and interesting adventure, with you, my family, being a big part of this journey . . .”

Her letter continued for a page and a half, including the statement, “Family is the most important thing. And I promise, I will help you from wherever I am with the family reunion you’re planning.”

A couple of times a year, I reread Mom’s letter. How many times do you think I’ve pulled out her legal will and reviewed that? NEVER!

Partly because of Mom’s Legacy Letter and her strong love of family, I continue to host family gatherings every other year or so. I use the modest inheritance she gave me to pay for reunion expenses including airline flights for my children and grandchildren.

On one evening during our time together, we typically toast marshmallows around an open firepit to make s’mores. That’s when we also lift a glass of wine to salute Mom and her love of family – clearly specified in her Legacy Letter.

A Legacy of Love

We all want to be remembered, to leave something behind – more than just our money and “stuff” at the end of our life.

You may have written your legal estate documents already. Good. That takes care of passing on what you own – your possessions. But material property isn’t the most valuable gift you can leave your family and loved ones. Your true treasures are worth much more than money. You can share your values, heritage, relationships, hopes, memories, and stories with family and friends in your Legacy Letter.

What you hold as especially precious can be an enduring message for generations to come. You can simply write a letter in which you share your values, hopes, dreams, memories and more. If you prefer a quick, more structured way to write your Legacy Letter, the following process may work well for you.

15 Minutes and 5 Steps to Write Your Legacy Letter

  • Who is this letter for: Could be addressed to family in general, or a specific friend or relative.
  • Thank you: Write what you appreciate, what you’re grateful for about this person(s).
  • 3 things life taught me: Next list your life lessons. (You might just list one initially and later add others.)
  • What matters most your values:  Say what’s really important to you. Start with at least one of your values and add more later.
  • In closing…: Finally, end your letter and sign off, possibly adding a special saying or poem you like.

Below is an example of a Legacy Letter I wrote for family and friends following this process. Note the yellow highlights for each of the five steps:

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What would you like to ask a relative who passed away years ago? Did any of your friends or relatives write a letter to you expressing their values, heritage, relationships, hopes, memories, and stories? What do you want to say to family and others in your Legacy Letter?

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I have thought of writing a letter like this for my family for some time but did not know how to write it. Thank you for your help in how I can create my own.

Kathleen Rehl

I’m glad you’ll try this easy format to write a legacy letter for your family.

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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