Traditional Wills describe the worldly possessions you want your loved ones to have. This sort of document is the oldest and best known component in estate planning.
In addition to the Will there are additional types of documents that are now widely recommended as part of modern integrated estate planning. These include Advance Medical Directives which may be used to express your wishes with regard to medical preferences in case you subsequently find yourself in a situation where you can’t make your own decisions. This sort of “Living Will” can address issues relating to end-of-life decisions such as life support and to define the extent of use of artificial means to keep you alive if there is no hope of recovery. There are also all sorts of other documents which allow you to delegate control and decision-making, such as various categories of Powers-of-Attorney.
But when you are planning your estate and taking stock of your life you may start to consider the sum total of your legacy. Many people would say that the most important things in life are not material assets. It can be a good idea to reflect on the purpose of your life, your moral and spiritual foundations, and the lessons you have learned throughout your life before you actually plan your estate and decide how to distribute your assets.
How then do we pass on to our loved ones the values and traditions we most want them to know? It might be that our most valuable and lasting gift is the wisdom we have accumulated in life – beliefs, lessons learned from mistakes, dreams, and hopes for the future. Perhaps these things may have meaning for your children – if not today, then one day, when they are older. Perhaps they will one day find themselves in need of guidance – perhaps they will be looking for strength & support when they are mourning their loss of you?
Creating a legacy letter can be an act of introspection that is cleansing and cathartic to you as the author. Such letters create everlasting family legacies of wisdom and tradition through expressions of gratitude, spiritual belief and guidance for the generations to come. They can be letters for the ages – letters to future generations.
In addition to the value that it has for you, a legacy letter can be a powerful gift to your family & heirs. It can help to provide them with moral and spiritual guidance at a time when they may be mourning the loss of you, and perhaps when they are to receive a life changing sum of money.
Over the centuries legacy letters have evolved from deathbed counsel to written documents to more sophisticated forms, such as videos and DVD’s.
How often do you find yourself repeating some piece of advice from a trusted old relative who took the time to share some wisdom they had learned in their life? Do you ever search your memory for some saying of your grandmother? Or try to remember how your uncle described his experience in the coal mines, or in the war? Don’t you wish you could access their memories and tell their stories to your own children and grandchildren?
Some medical professionals believe that writing down your values also helps you to clarify them. It helps you to focus on what you value the most, how to identify it and preserve it for future generations. You can learn a lot about yourself when you write a legacy letter. They have the power to make people confront the choices that they must make in their lives. They can make people who are usually too preoccupied with earning a living stop and consider what they are living for.
If you knew with certainty that you were going to die in 3 weeks, would you want to communicate some things to those you love? So why wait? We are all going to die sometime. Why not consider writing down or recording your thoughts now, for your loved ones to open after you’re gone? A legacy letter might be the most beautiful, powerful and enduring gift you can give.
Rod Genders is a senior Australian lawyer specialising in accident compensation and estate planning in Adelaide. His boutique specialist law firm is one of the oldest and most respected in Australia – visit it at www.genders.com.au . Rod is also a prolific author and speaker. Some of his articles and books on Wills, Probate, Trusts, Estate Planning, Asset Protection and Retirement Planning may be found at www.genders.com.au/adelaide-lawyer-blog.