A while back, I read a second tier short-time NYT bestseller titled The Letter Left to Me by Joseph McElroy, which tells the story of a young man who ascribes phenomenal power to a rather dull letter written by his now deceased father. I remember little of the book and nothing of the all-important letter, but the concept of a letter written to leave a legacy to a child is an important one.
Numerous experts including Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, trumpet the value of actually writing down the values of yourself and of your family. In a letter or an Ethical Will you finally write down the things that are important to you as a legacy to the future.
Perhaps with the perspective that this will help clarify your own ideals and that of your family during the middle years, with death and literal legacy comfortably in the future, some of the sadness of the exercise can be removed.
The objective is to write down your key thoughts and learning with the hope that your progeny can skip ahead a few rungs on the maturity ladder without having to repeat all of the lessons along the way. If you need some help, you might try The Ethical Will Writing Guide Workbook, which is only $4.95 and comes highly recommended, though I have not looked at it myself..
When my own father died nine years ago, I was surprised that in all the legal papers that outlined the bureaucratic steps to take to close down his official life, there was no extra piece of paper to help me deal with the grief. There was nothing to say one more time the things we had already said a thousand times over a lifetime. My father did not die suddenly. He died over the course of seven years and had plenty of time to talk about a lot of issues, and certainly time to write a letter. I think he just didn’t think about it.
My wife and I have thought about it before each and every trip we’ve taken, especially the few we’ve actually taken without the kids in tow. In these letters, we reminisce about key events. We review the the strengths we see in our children and our bets on their future success. We outline our key beliefs. And finally, we reiterate our love and fervently pray that they don’t have to read those letters until we’re on revision 42 or so.
We update these letters every year, at about the same time we review our wills for important changes. The letters get slipped in with the will and I always sleep a little bit better for a few nights knowing that I’ve said the things that need to be said to my kids in a form they can read and re-read as they need for their own eventual comfort.
– Paul Banas
Founder / Editor