Many of us have, at times in our lives, struggled to achieve success and find meaning to our existence. For some of us, that struggle continued for years while we learned through trial and error lessons that shaped our outlook and made us the persons that we are today.
Was your life experience a journey that led you to this point in time? Or did you one day have an epiphany that changed everything? Regardless of the manner in which you got here, the story of your life holds lessons and values for your loved ones.
As an estate planning attorney, I have had the experience of listening to clients as they strive to create a plan to distribute their worldly possessions after they are gone. Invariably, this conversation turns to their children. How they were when they were young. What kind of persons they have turned out to be.
Many times, these thoughts guide my clients in deciding what each child will receive. Instead of sending a message through the distribution of assets, wouldn’t it be fitting if they could put their feelings in a different type of will?
That different type of will has been referred to as an “ethical will” or as we will call it, a Legacy Statement.
The ethical will is an ancient tradition which many trace back to the Biblical story of Jacob, who before his death conferred a personal blessing on each of his twelve children. The practice reached its peak in the Middle Ages and has undergone a resurgence lately.
A Legacy Statement is a publication of a message you wish to give to those you leave behind. It can take the form of many different media. While most Legacy Statements are in writing, an ever-increasing number are being delivered by audio or video recordings.
It is important to realize that a Legacy Statement is not a legal document. It may express your wishes and desires, but it should not be intended as a legally binding instrument.
A Legacy Statement allows you to deliver a personal story based on a theme you select. Legacy Statements may be long journals or brief letters. Each is as unique as its author, but most have certain elements in common.
1. A Target Audience. This is the object of your message and lesson. The person or persons to whom you are directing the Legacy Statement. It may be your spouse, your children, your friends, your community or anyone you intend to be impacted by your statement.
2. A Message. The message is the expression of the purpose for writing the Legacy Statement. You will need to decide the purpose of your Legacy Statement. Some examples of the reasons people write Legacy Statements are:
o To impart advice to those who follow you.
o To serve as a love letter to those who mean so much to you.
o To introduce yourself to future generations who will never have the honor of meeting you in person.
o To emphasize what has been important to you and has been a profound influence in your life.
o To tell your personal story; your hopes, your dreams, your disappointments. It may be a narrative of past successes and failures, an accounting of your life. Some writers use the occasion to speculate how they would do things differently if they had the chance to “do it all over again.”
3. A Lesson. Out of the message comes a directive or lesson that you may wish to impart. You can use your life experiences to create a background for your statement of the moral and ethical principles you implore your heirs to follow.