FAQs About Personal Legacy Documents

What is a personal legacy document?

It is letter or recording created for your descendants and/or successors.  Although often shared during life, a personal legacy document is created intentionally to  last beyond your lifetime – for the purpose of communicating feelings, values, wisdom, stories, wishes, advice or important information not contained in your legal will or estate planning documents.

Is a personal legacy document legally binding?

No. It  is important that your document does not contradict or cloud any aspects of your will or estate plan (see below for disclaimer that can be added to your letter).  These documents are an important component of a plan, however because they complement dry legalese governing distribution of financial assets with your values and your ‘voice.’

Why write a personal legacy document?

First, because creating one is a profoundly meaningful and satisfying personal exercise. Second, because it can be  equally profound, meaningful and helpful to those fortunate enough to be on the receiving end.

How long are they?

The document can be as short as a paragraph and as long as a bound volume. Often an ethical will is not one discrete document but instead, a series of pages that have been created over time and kept together in a folder.

Who should write a personal legacy document?

Any loving adult.

When should I write one?

Right now, no matter what your age. Don’t risk being ‘too late.’ Just getting started feels really good.

Can a personal legacy document be updated or added to?

Yes, because you – and your audience – grow and change.  Consider your ethical will a work in progress.

When should it be shared?

When it feels right. Sharing what you have written during your lifetime reaps immediate rewards, but you may prefer that it be read only after your death. Make sure others know where it is. Keep a copy with your legal documents or make a note about where to find it if its in a file or on your computer.

What should not go into a personal legacy document?

Negative, critical commentary. You will be remembered for your words.

Can it be recorded on an audio or videotape?

Yes, though because future generations will be using different technology, you should have a transcript of it made.

* If your document addresses any legal elements of your estate plan, add this disclaimer:

“To the extent that there is conflict between this document and my formal estate planning documents (e.g., will, trusts, health care proxy, power of attorney and documents of the like) such formal documents shall take precedence.”