Keeping Memories and Sharing Wisdome: Legacy Letter

reproduced and written by Amy Paul, President of Heirloom Works


What is a legacy letter? What is an Ethical Will? Are they the same and, if not, what are the differences?

Ethical Will, is a writing tradition in which the author expresses his/her life wisdom, love and life values with a loved one with the intention that it serve as a future guide, inspiration and support. The term recognizes the historical genesis of this practice, which comes from the Old Testament and was carried forward in the New Testament. The term, Legacy Letter, serves the same function as the Ethical Will, but is conceived outside any particular religious or historical foundation.

A Legacy Letter is a written document in which your life lessons, wisdom, family history and love are conveyed as a guide and source of comfort to your loved ones as a legacy for future generations.
Amy Paul, author, had worked as an advocate on behalf of older individuals for over 10 years. In addition, she was a caregiver for her elderly parents. As her parents got older, she drew upon their experience with older individuals and activities that they enjoyed, and engaged her father in writing his memoir. This proved to be an uplifting experience for her dad and her family received the memoir as a ‘treasure’ for themselves and future generations. She started to research into both memoir and alternative options that could offer similar benefits. That’s when she learned about Ethical Wills/Legacy Letters.

As a starting point, Amy suggests you decide to whom you wish to write, and if you will write one letter to your entire family or you will write a different letter to each individual. That decision will help you to think about how to write the letter.

If people have trouble starting to write, an encouragement to review their own values/life priorities before they start writing. Typically, one can distribute select ‘memory prompts’ and ‘values prompts’ to help them start writing on a blank page. Some people use the technique of mind mapping, too. A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. The map is hierarchical and shows relationships among pieces of the whole.

On a personal note: Years ago  after I moved my Dad from Indiana to California before I was an official senior move manager, I discovered a book “To My Children’s Children”. Each chapter has guided questions to interview an elder and loved one from birth to adulthood. I videotaped my Dad and our conversations. After the tapings, he would call me and say, I forgot to mention this or that.

What a treat to experience the process and give as a gift to a loved one.