meaningful estate documents

Don’t Leave This Out of Your Estate Plan: The Legacy Letter

Don’t Leave This Out of Your Estate Plan: The Legacy Letter

by Bill High

Drafting an estate plan isn’t something most people get excited about. I don’t know many who are eager to think about their passing, or to wade through all those legal documents. I believe including a “legacy letter” can help a lot. Let me explain.

Think about it. You sit down with a lawyer to plan your estate, and what takes place?

There’s normally a questionnaire to complete. That document requires us to list our financial assets. We talk with the lawyer about taking care of a spouse. That’s a good thing. And we talk about passing our assets on to our children, maybe grandchildren if we have them.

Funny thing, a 2015 Merrill Lynch Retirement Study tells a different reality: retirees are twice as likely to say that it is more important to pass on values and virtues to their children instead of financial assets.

What’s more amazing, younger generations are two-and-a-half times more likely to say that values and life lessons are more important to receive than financial assets.

We need to start the estate planning discussion with different questions:

  • What do you most want to pass on to your children?
  • What stories? What values?
  • How can your documents be used to pass on those stories and values?
  • How can your assets be used to reinforce those values?

It’s a different question and a different process, but a worthy place to start.


Personality in estate documents? The legacy letter

Now, because we’re still talking about drafting a will or trust, there’s still plenty of legal complexity. There’s a reason people call lawyer-speak alphabet soup.

But don’t let that complexity stop you from adding yourself to the estate documents. What do I mean?

At a minimum, I recommend that you add some introductory language such as a preamble to your will or trust.

Steve Marken of Stewardship Counsel calls this type of document a “legacy letter” or “letter of wishes.”

You can write in the first person. Your letter or preamble can include your purpose in drafting the document, your purpose in life, your expression of love and gratitude for your children, and why you are making gifts to them and/or charity. You can include the emotion behind the gift.

You can explain your relationship to God and His role in your life. And you can include your hopes and dreams for your children.

Here are a few more ideas of things you could include in a legacy letter to make your estate documents meaningful:

  1. Reflections on the day your child was born
  2. Special memories of trips taken, events that occurred
  3. Things you admired about your children
  4. Difficult challenges you had to overcome
  5. Favorite quotes or life lessons
  6. Milestones in your child’s life
  7. A favorite Bible verse and what it has meant to you

One final tip: Don’t make it too long. A page or two is great!

Adding a non-binding legacy letter is perfectly legal. Ask your lawyer. But I suspect that document will be the most meaningful thing your heirs will read!

Get started writing your own legacy letter by downloading my Guide to Purposeful Language.


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Published March 1, 2019

Topics: Estate Planning

Estate PlanningFamily LegacyTrustsWills

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