Wednesday, July 5, 2017

5 Tips on Writing a Legacy Letter to Your Family

by Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

Families are funny.

Sometimes a family member can be a best friend. But all too often, childhood competition and conflict break families apart. Even as adults, the ties of family – which we’re told should be the strongest – don’t always survive.

I’m one of five siblings. We weren’t close growing up but we’ve settled some of our differences and found common ground we can all deal with over the years. Not easy, but greatly rewarding.  But one of my best friends can’t even talk to her sister because of the hurts they both carry.

Parent/child relationships can be even more difficult. Another friend, an older man, has six children, half of whom don’t speak to him. He isn’t sure what to do with the animosity these grown kids have toward him. I can tell it bothers him, especially on Father’s Day and Christmas.

At first, he decided to leave them out of his will. But he realized how final – and irreconcilable - that would be. Instead, he’s decided to write legacy letters to his family, hoping to open a dialogue, whether now or after his death, to tell them how he feels.

Legacy letters are simple but powerful tools which can help bring clarity to a relationship. Added to a legal will, they can even create a lasting record. More importantly, they may become the last contact a family member has with you. A love letter, a celebration of life, a sharing of memories, a heartfelt apology, they can be a way to communicate what you truly feel.

Some of us are lucky and can express our feelings directly to the person we love. Some of us connect better by writing.  

5 tips to help you get started.

1. Consider carefully who you are writing to.
A legacy letter could also be called a ‘love letter’ – a love letter to someone you care deeply about. If you could sweep away the emotion and look at that person objectively, would you truly want to hurt him or her? Of course not! So, speak to them from that love. Tell them the wonderful things you know about them, the memories you share. Show them how important they are.

2. Consider carefully what you want to say.
Don’t lie. Don’t blame. Don’t point fingers. Now’s not the time to defend yourself or try to make someone else take responsibility. It’s much better to write about the good things you remember.

Even if there are no hurt feelings involved, it’s important to keep negativity out. Often, these are people who have known you longer and better than anyone else in the world. Certainly they’ve seen you at your best – and very possibly at your worst.

3. Consider carefully the emotional impact you will create.
It’s okay to touch on sensitive subjects. If there’s something that needs to be said, say it. But be honest. Think about what you yourself would like to be told by someone you love. Show them you cherish them and the life you’ve shared. They will carry what you tell them now for the rest of their life.

4. Consider carefully the apology you make.
“I’m sorry” are the two most powerful words in the English language. We all make mistakes. Many of them! And, unfortunately, there are no do-overs. A simple and sincere apology may not be enough to fix all the problems between you and a loved one, but it’s a great start.

5. Consider carefully how you will share the letter with them.
Are you writing the letter to give to them while you’re alive? If so, you’ll need to consider how it will be delivered. By mail? By hand? Through another person? When would be the best time for them, since reading it could be emotional for them? Or, after your death? These letters can be included in your will or important papers, or delivered by an attorney.

A legacy letter can be the precious thing you leave behind. I encourage you to sit down right now and write one to the people you love. It won’t take a lot of time, once you decide what
you want to say – probably only 30 minutes or so per letter.

Who would you most have liked to receive a legacy letter from? Who would you like to send a legacy letter to, dead or alive?


Sarah (Sally) Hamer is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for over twelve years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors.

You can find her at or on Twitter @sallyhamer.


  1. Sally, I love this idea. As the family genealogist, I can see more than healing in such a document. Healing and family history, too? It doesn't get better than this. I'm writing some letters in the near future. Thank you!

    1. Debra, I'm so excited that you're going to write letters! So many people wait until it's too late. I'm so glad you won't.
      Best wishes on your family histories, both the ones you find and the ones you create.

  2. I have never thought of doing that. What a great idea, Sally! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you too, Barbara! I love traveling to see you and your wonderful group and look forward to seeing you in August!

  4. Great idea, but I'd have too many letters to write.

  5. Thanks for the great info on opening your heart to a loved one or a friend by writing them a legacy letter. I shall begin that process soon.

  6. Enjoyed reading the 5 tips. It seems one has to be honest as well as ready to walk on egg shells !

    P. T Asher