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Annual Legacy Writing Review

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"Legacy Tips and Tools" commonly focuses on specific legacy writing topics. As our e-list continues to expand, many new legacy writers are unaware of the basic principles of legacy writing. Others, who've been writing for some time, can benefit from a review to refine or renew their commitment to legacy writing.

Basic principles of legacy and legacy writing include the following:

1. Legacy writing is different from memoir, spiritual autobiography, genealogy/family history or scrapbooking in intention, but not necessarily in content.

2. The intention (purpose) of legacy writing is to communicate and preserve your values, stories and blessings for future generations.

3. As Marianne Williamson suggested, "We are all mothers of the planet" and legacy writing is a privilege and responsibility for all of us.

4. Legacy letters may be written to a family member, friend, colleague, co‐worker or community. It is not necessary to be a parent or a grandparent to leave a legacy of values.

Dr. Andrew Weil suggested in his endorsement of "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies" that, "The ethical will is a wonderful gift to leave to your family at the end of your life, but ... its main importance is what it can give you in the midst of life."

How so? Because, as the ethical will "links you to your history, gives purpose to your daily life and communicates your legacies to those you love," legacy writing also nourishes you, the writer. Legacy writing addresses universal human needs -- our own personal needs, needs of which we are generally unaware. These include: the need to belong, to be known and remembered, to make a difference, to be needed, to bless and be blessed, and to celebrate life.

"Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die,
we can't remember who we are or why we're here."

-- Sue Monk Kidd


The rather uninviting or unfriendly term "ethical will," or even the softer "spiritual-ethical will" may frighten away potential legacy writers. [See more details about the ethical will at: life-legacies] Yet, we are all competent enough to write "legacy letters," and to feel confident that we have something worthwhile to communicate.

Understanding these fundamentals about ethical wills and legacy letters leads to principles of practice.

Principles of practice:

1. Use the format of a letter (far less threatening than writing a document or a book. We can all write a letter.) In this day of swiftly deleted emails and the corrupted spelling of text messaging, there is something special, even sacred, about receiving a letter in a loved one's hand.

2. Time yourself and write for 15 minutes, and no more. The limit will help you focus your intention and set aside the idea that legacy writing is an overwhelming task. (You can always go back to rework and amend your draft. Most writers find that the discipline of brief timed writing almost always results in surprising and profound expression directly from the heart, a powerful message to your loved one.

3. Write your reflections for no more than five minutes directly after writing a legacy letter. Keep them with a copy of your letter in your personal legacy file. These process notes are the mental complement to your heartfelt letter. They provide you with a different perspective about the experience of writing a legacy letter: An invaluable reflection for its opportunity to learn more about yourself and the values that matter most to you.

May your reflection and legacy writing be a gift to yourself today
and to those you love tomorrow.
-- Rachael Freed

You can find out more about communicating and preserving your legacy (ethical will) at Life-Legacies or throughe-mail.

Rachael Freed has published several works including "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations" and "Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient." She is currently working on "Harvesting the Wisdom of Our Lives: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide for Seniors and Their Families." Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and legacy consultant. Her home is Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more information, visit Life-Legacies and heartmates.

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