A legacy letter or ethical will (as it is called in the Jewish faith) has been around for millennium. It is a chance to document what we care about most and can be done in a number of forms. For those with substantial wealth, a legacy letter can help the next generation become more effective stewards of the family funds. Accumulating wealth is seldom an end in itself – the wealth creator almost always had a struggle in the background and a specific goal firmly in mind for the future. That should not be lost.
Legacy letters are not really ever about wealth. They are about wisdom.
My Dear Children,
“I have dealt with my estate in my will and the trust I’ve just now finished signing along with the associated arrangements. In due time you will see how I have divided my possessions. I trust and hope you will think it fair.
But now I want to turn to more important matters. I want to talk to you about what I think is truly important in life.
“First of all, thank you for all you have done. I didn’t always say it, but I always felt it. I am so happy with how you turned out and the decisions you made. You have made me proud.”
So might our legacy letter or video start to children or other significant people in our lives telling them about what we have come to believe and what lessons we have learned in the course of our lives.
Some choose to record on paper, others choose to record their message in a video legacy project.
Some consultants advise expressing gratitude or praising children in this document – setting the record straight once and for all. After all, we spend so much time advising and guiding, we often neglect to say – simply and directly –how proud we are of our children.
Take some care in composing your legacy project on video – or in writing. Especially if you plan to mention individuals. For one thing, you will not be in a position to take back something that is poorly handled. Be careful about damning with faint praise, or favoring one child over another, or trying to define a child or grandchild.
People are good. Never believe the opposite.
You will see all kinds of foolish and selfish conduct from others. But remember that we are all struggling with the enormous burden of navigating our way through uncertain times. And sometimes the decisions we make are poor ones. But single decisions do not define us or anybody else.
Our common humanity defines us.