In January, Susan Turnbull of Personal Legacy Advisors and Linda Cao of Silver Oak Wealth Advisors led a thought-provoking and inspiring program that broadened our imagination on what legacy means. Through interesting examples, simple exercises, and personal storytelling, the audience left with gratitude towards the people who impacted them and a renewed sense of potential for positive influence in the lives of the people most important to them. “Wealth” got a new definition, too, as they considered how to pass down the wealth of values and blessings through the instrument of a personal legacy letter, which is sometimes also called an “ethical will.” To access the webinar replay, click here.

As a follow-up, Linda hosted a Women’s Circle in February, where women who are interested in personal legacy had a safe and supportive space to deepen their thoughts and act to fulfill their good intentions.

Things to Consider When Writing a Personal Legacy Letter

Life is unpredictable. It’s never too early to start thinking about what you want to say to your loved ones, but it can be too late if you wait and leave things unsaid.

An ethical will or legacy letter captures and conveys your intangible assets such as your ethics, wisdom, dreams, beliefs and values. It can be an intimate letter to those you love, communicating what is most important for them to know and understand. It can be written however you’d like and truly capture your authentic voice and stories.

You should always check your intention and motivation when writing a personal legacy letter. It is not about control. It’s about empowerment. If you cannot think of anything specific to say, you can follow these four themes:

  • Thank you. You can let someone know how truly grateful you are for having them in your life. 
  • I love you. Sharing how much you love someone is one of the greatest gifts you can leave them.
  • Forgive me/I forgive you. Offering or asking for forgiveness can bring closure to a difficult relationship. It can help individuals heal and bring peace. 
  • Pass important family history and stories for the next generation. They are often eager and intrigued to learn the details of life about their ancestors.

An ethical will is an excellent way to complement legal documents, such as wills and trusts, that are used to transfer family wealth. You can pass important family money history and stories for the next generation and answer questions such as: 

  • How was the family wealth created? 
  • What decisions and choices were made to get where you are today? 
  • What is your philosophy on earning, spending, saving, and sharing? 
  • How do you expect your heirs to handle the inheritance if any? 
  • What does it mean to be financially responsible? 
  • What is your definition of success? 

Answers to these questions give the rich context and understanding that your heirs will appreciate and remember. 

Writing your ethical will or personal legacy letter is an act of love and a process of self-discovery. It presents a priceless gift to the recipients and yourself, so we highly recommend incorporating this into your wealth planning process.