A family legacy letter, also known as an “Ethical Will,” is a non-legal document that provides surviving family members with one’s wishes and directions for leaving behind a relational, spiritual, and family legacy. While it is critically important to have one’s legal and financial affairs in order, creating a legal estate plan is only one element of planning well. In addition to creating a good legal estate plan, we believe that all of us should be working to leave a legacy within our families and communities. For that reason, clients might prepare a statement, which I call a “Legacy Letter,” also known as an “Ethical Will,” to accompany their legal documents and that provides family members your thoughts on your own legacy in your own words.
Among other topics, you might pass along lessons you have learned through failure and accomplishment. If your legal documents provide your spouse, children, and others with a financial inheritance, your legacy letter might include direction as to how, based upon your own spiritual and moral beliefs and life lessons, you desire for your family and friends to use such financial resources. The Legacy Letter can be brief or lengthy, but the point is to pass along, in your own words, how you want those to remember you, your life, and your legacy.
The Legacy Letter/Ethical Will is not a legal document. There are no specific provisions that must be included. By way of example, you might consider including the following topics:
- I believe the most important things in life are……
- I want my family to learn the following lessons from my own experiences….
- In receiving an inheritance from me, it is my wish that my family members use these financial resources to….
- I want to be remembered as ….
- The biggest regrets I have from my life are….
- The biggest accomplishments for which I wish to be remembered are….