By Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, CeFT® Emeritus, www.KathleenRehl.com
Your estate documents may be in place already. Good. Your legal will and possibly a trust take care of passing financial assets and material stuff. But your possessions aren’t the most valuable gift for family and friends. You can give loved ones a far more precious treasure that’s a legacy of who you really are.
Traditional estate planning is important to pass on your “stuff” in an organized manner. Your legal will, living trust, and other estate documents say what money and possessions you want to give your family and friends. This is important. But you are much more than the financial assets and belongings you’ve accumulated during a lifetime. Your true treasures are worth more. That includes your values, hopes, dreams, memories, and stories. You can share your essence forever with those you love and care for through a lasting Legacy Letter.
My Mother’s Legacy Letter
Shortly before my Mom passed, she wrote her Legacy Letter. She asked that this be read during her memorial service. It’s filled with Mother’s wisdom, gratitude, and deep love for our family. Her letter began:
“To you, my family, who are reading my Legacy 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.”
Mom’s two-page letter identified what was important to her, including:
Appreciate the importance of balance among family, work, spiritual and physical aspects of life. It’s easy to let things get out of balance. Body, mind, and spirit—these three aspects of life are all essential. Remember to take time to play and “smell the roses” along the way. Always remember that family, friends, and faith are what truly matter in life. Focus on what you value, not just on the value of what you have.
A couple of times a year, I reread Mom’s Legacy Letter. Her wise advice still speaks to me. How many times do you think I’ve reread her legal will since she passed years ago? Never.
You Can Give Lasting True Treasures
The money and possessions you leave family and others through your estate plans may quickly be spent, used up, or merged with recipients’ other holdings. But those financial assets are not who you genuinely are!
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. I created this term to emphasize our special distinctiveness. It’s a wonderful way to identify and communicate what makes you unique.
With permission, I adapted ideas from Barry K. Baines, M.D., author of Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper. Plus, I added my ideas to create the Legacy LifePrint™ Letters & Stories 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.
My Legacy Letter and Legacy Stories
After my late husband died several years ago, I also wrote my Legacy Letter. I’ve updated my document several times since then. Recently I started writing about important themes in my life. I expect the result will be a little memoir booklet with about 15 short stories based on these important themes. Each will be two or three pages long.
Here’s the opening paragraph of my “Never Say Never” story, detailing humorous adventures with online dating and how I met my new husband:
Who signs up for online dating, not having dated for decades? And what woman who doesn’t understand how modern computer dating works still tries to meet a potential cyber match in her 60s. That was me more than a dozen years ago.
I’m having great fun with these story themes and will continue writing others over the coming months. I expect to complete my memoir booklet by the year’s end—ready for family holiday giving.
Enjoy Writing Your Own Legacy Letters and Stories
-Download the free booklet, Legacy Lifeprint™ Letters & Stories.
-Skim pages and select those that resonate with you. Topics include balance in life, learning, family and friends, honesty, humor, giving, good, mistakes, spirituality, lessons, reflections, hopes, love, forgiveness, and others.
-Put checkmarks beside statements on these pages that fit you. Edit phrases if you prefer, adding or crossing out words. Write additional statements if you wish.
-Write your thoughts in the extra space on each page, using your unique way of saying things.
-Combine sentences on a separate page to be your Legacy Letter for loved ones and friends. (You may want to write different versions for various individuals.)
-Share your Legacy Letter soon with family and friends or provide instructions for sharing this after you’ve passed. Keep a copy of your Legacy Letter with other estate documents.
-Consider writing a longer Legacy piece based on several themes noted on page 20 of Legacy Lifeprint™ Letters & Stories. Write two-three pages about each topic you select. Combine these and add pictures if available. Your memoir can be a cherished gift for family and friends forever.
Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., is a Certified Financial Planner™ and author of Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. Happily “reFired,” she enjoys time with her new husband and their blended families . . . plus assists several nonprofits. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, USA Today, and many other publications. Check out her website at http://kathleenrehl.com.