Obituary Guide

Write Legacy Letter to Express Values, Lessons Learned in Life

Brandon Sun,  September 20, 2022

David McConkey

Any day can be a reminder to us of our mortality, of what it means to live a good life and of one generation inspiring the next. What recommendations would you have on how to live a good life? Here is a way to share your insights. You can write a legacy letter.

What is a legacy letter? A legacy letter is a summary of your values, what you think about living a meaningful, fulfilling, good life. A legacy letter expresses your hopes for the next generation and the future beyond. The legacy letter could be addressed to your children, grandchildren, other young people or a group or organization in your life. Or it could start as being for yourself.

Because it can go along with the money and property you bequeath, a legacy letter is also known as an “ethical will.” Whichever term is used, the concept is not meant as a legal or formal document, but as a personal expression.

The legacy letter idea is striking many folks as one of those good things to do, simple and free of charge. A legacy letter embodies a core truth: your values are worth more than your valuables.

A legacy letter is a companion to a life story that I described here a while ago. A life story is a record of the facts of your life. A legacy letter embodies the more intangible part of living – instead of the things you did, the life lessons you learned.

The suggestions for writing a life story apply to composing a legacy letter. Get started. Have an attainable goal, like a couple of pages. Follow the best rule of writing: don’t begin with your final, polished draft. Instead, first get something down, then use that as a foundation to build and improve on. If the project inspires you to do more, you can always do that later. The critical point is to get started and to keep going.

I had in mind to write my own legacy letter ever since a friend mentioned it to me about 15 years ago. But – you know – I somehow never got around to it. Then this spring, I gave a 10-minute pep talk at the Westman Seniors Housing Co-op on the topic of upping our game as seniors. I mentioned the legacy letter as part of our game. I made a commitment there to finish my own legacy letter and to write a column about it.

There, done! My completed legacy letter is now tucked away in my “A.D.” file; the column is what you are reading right now. What about that? A public declaration is like a deadline: it spurs action!

Of course, a legacy letter seems most appropriate for seniors. And I suggest that writing a legacy letter be viewed as a regular part of life and end-of-life planning, like having an up-to-date will and health care directive. We think of those as being for older folks, but you are wise to put them in place at any age. After all, we don’t know when we are approaching the end of our life. As with other aspects of this process, it is never too early. But before you know, it might be too late.

Writing a legacy letter can be a useful way to reflect on one’s life, at any stage. So, if you are of younger years, consider pausing to reflect on what it means to live a good life. This exercise could be beneficial now and also to refer to again in the years to come.

Wondering how to live a good life takes on special resonance at this moment in history. Several existential threats loom large, like nuclear catastrophe, climate change, disruptive technologies, a new pandemic and social discord. So, having greater weight right now is the challenge of pursuing our daily lives in the shadow of global threats. Another challenge is engaging with our fellow citizens who have very different perceptions of reality.

You have taken your lifetime till now to accumulate your wisdom. But it might take just a modest effort to draft a summary. So, consider writing a legacy letter. Complete something of a couple of pages and file it away with a copy of your will and such. You can always return later and revise it if you have more thoughts.

And here’s a bonus. After you finish your legacy letter, you may see some places where you have outlined your values but you are falling somewhat short in practice. I did. Here’s a chance to follow your own advice! Go ahead – while you still have time – and live a better life.

* * *
See Also:

Write a Life Story

Ways to Leave a Legacy

Memoir Writing: Ten Tips

Writing Your Own Obituary Offers Chance for Reflection

Write and Give a Eulogy

Having the Last Say: Capturing Your Legacy in One Small Story

Be Prepared: Will, Health Care Directive (Living Will), and More

From the Résumé to the Eulogy: Describing Ourselves

More From Obituary Guide:

Books You May Find of Interest:

Not Quite What I Was Planning: 
Six-Word Memoirs

Six-Word Memoirs

Read the Review

View on Amazon

Writing an Obituary Worth Reading:
A Guide to Writing a Fulfilling Life Review

Writing an Obituary

Read the Review

View on Amazon

Find the Good:
Unexpected Life lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer

Find the Good

Read the Review

View on Amazon

Having the Last Say:
Capturing Your Legacy in One Small Story

Last Say

Read the Review

View on Amazon

Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives


Read the Review

View on Amazon

For All Time:
A Complete Guide to Writing Your Family History

For All Time

Read the Review

View on Amazon

The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder


Read the Review

View on Amazon

Press Ctrl + D to Bookmark this page