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How a Legacy Letter Can Augment a Will

09/18/2023 | Blog

Many legal documents are required in a valid estate plan, including wills, trusts, and guardianship designations. A legacy letter can also be an integral part of an estate plan and often accompanies a will. However, unlike most estate planning documents, a legacy letter does not have legal standing.

Instead, a legacy letter is more like a personal statement you can share with your loved ones. Consider a legacy letter an opportunity to memorialize your thoughts, values, and experiences to help preserve your memory and values for future generations. In fact, your legacy letter could even be read by family members you didn’t get to meet during your lifetime. 

How to Write a Legacy Letter 

You may want to seek the assistance of an estate planning attorney to help you generate ideas and select a secure location for storing your legacy letter. Your attorney may also be tasked with distributing your legacy letter upon your passing. 

While a legacy letter is sometimes compared to a will, the documents are different. You can think of it like this: a will allows you to bequeath beneficiaries with assets and other valuables. By contrast, a legacy letter enables you to impart values.

There is no single right way to write a legacy letter, but the following tips can make the task rewarding and valuable to both you and your loved ones: 

  • Organize your thoughts before you begin writing
  • Tell stories about pivotable and life-changing moments
  • Share your values, including what has made life fulfilling and meaningful
  • Express gratitude for the loved ones in your life
  • Provide advice, teachings, and life lessons that can help the people you care about as they navigate life
  • Discuss how you want to be remembered when you’re gone

Most legacy letters are written by hand (or on a computer). As technology advances, some clients also choose to create video forms of legacy letters. Regardless of the medium you use, we recommend keeping backup copies and digital versions in multiple locations to ensure they are safely protected for years.

When to Create a Legacy Letter

It’s never too early to start writing a legacy letter. You can even have multiple legacy letters that you write as your life continues to be enriched by new experiences or additions to the family. You do not have to write your legacy letter in a single sitting. If you’re unsure what to include or need time to think about what’s most important, you can store your thoughts in a journal or Word document and keep adding to the letter when you feel inspired. 

Legacy Letter vs. Letter of Last Instruction 

In addition to a legacy letter, clients often choose to create a letter of last instruction to assist loved ones in fulfilling instructions or wrapping up an estate. This document includes specifics like passwords, personal and banking information, and instructions for funeral arrangements. 

While there can be an overlap between a legacy letter and a letter of last instruction, the two documents are typically created separately. The reason has to do with the fact the intent is different. A legacy letter is a personal, heartfelt document that will be treasured for generations. By contrast, a letter of last instruction allows your loved ones to have access to documents and information that will enable them to be taken care of.

Both documents are incredibly valuable, and they may be stored together with other estate planning documents. 

If you would like assistance drafting a legacy letter, an estate plan, or a letter of last instruction in California, please contact Salvo Law today for additional guidance.