In preparation for Thanksgiving, I had to quickly get up to speed on how to cook a Thanksgiving meal. I was determined to create our favorite family recipes on my own and was sorting through all my recipes saved on Pinterest when it dawned on me that I had the best resource of all… my grandmother’s recipe book! I knew I had it stashed away, but haven’t looked at it in years. This tattered little notebook was packed full of stained, detailed, tweaked, and marked-up family traditions so carefully documented by my grandma and great-grandma. It was so much more than just our recipes; each one brought back so many memories.
As I carefully flipped through the disintegrating pages, I couldn’t help but stop when I reached her famous pecan pie recipe. Seeing this written in her bubbly cursive handwriting brought back a rush of holiday memories, meaningful conversations, milestone celebrations, and so many laughs with this pie at the center of our kitchen table. Finding it after all these years and sharing some of these stories with my sons was a poignant reminder that our legacy extends far beyond our material possessions and wealth — it includes the feelings, emotions, and lessons that we leave behind with our loved ones.
At Strategic Wealth Partners, we help clients with estate planning almost daily (and sometimes share recipes too), but it’s important to remember that the simple things (like a family recipe) are often the most meaningful to those around us. The question remains: how do we pass down these simple, yet deeply important, messages?
The act of writing a legacy letter is a great starting point, and that’s why it was the focus of our recent Women, Wealth, and Wisdom event hosted by Susan Turnbull, founder of Personal Legacy Advisors. As a writer, speaker, and workshop facilitator, Susan helps people define the tangible and intangible components of their legacies. And although her insights were the focus of this year’s Women, Wealth, and Wisdom event, defining your legacy is essential for all of us — not just women.
If you would like to learn more, we encourage you to watch the recording of the event below and keep reading for Susan’s insights on how to get started writing your own legacy letters.
Writing Your Legacy Letters
Many of us view our “legacy” as a large, grandiose thing: the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of events and achievements that towers over our loved ones’ memories of us. But your legacy is simply a collection of the moments you are living right now, today, in the middle of this messy life. Our spoken words and presence will invariably fade; legacy letters are a written record of small stories, accumulated wisdom, and love that can live on long after we are gone.
Writing a legacy letter can seem daunting, so consider starting small. Instead of trying to capture your whole legacy at once, think about one specific person in your life: your spouse, a child, or a lifelong friend. Then, think about how you want them to feel when they read your letter.
If you aren’t sure what to say, Susan recommends sharing one of three things in your letter: gratitude, wisdom, or conviction.
Thank the recipient for something they have given you. If you are writing to a child, your letter could tell the story of a time that your child taught you a valuable lesson. For me, this could be the time that my son, Eli, helped me find some perspective during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as I wrote about in my article Get Talking. If you are writing to a spouse, you could thank them for the love and affection they have given you over the years.
List three lessons, whether they were easy or “hard” lessons, that your life has taught you. The wisdom you share is entirely up to you — the important thing is to share something you’ve learned that could benefit the person reading it.
Express the most important things they should know. Share your feelings freely and openly, either about the recipient or about life in general, in a way that makes them feel good or gives them something to think about.
As you sit down to start writing, it’s important to remember that a legacy letter can take any form you want. If you want to type a multi-page essay for someone you care about, you can, but if you’d rather express your feelings in a short, simple handwritten note, that’s perfect as well. The important thing is that you share what’s in your heart with the people you care about most.
Lastly, if you have young children or grandchildren, consider writing a legacy letter and storing it with your estate planning documents, with instructions to only open the letter in the event of your passing. This allows you to share wisdom and love that your children may not be ready to receive right now but that they would cherish when they are older.
The last year may have changed how we view our legacy and the impact our lives have on those around us. Now more than ever, it is important to share our wisdom and our love with those we care about while we have the chance. If we can assist you with this process or provide any help getting started, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to support your entire estate plan: the tangible and intangible pieces that, together, comprise the story of your life.