What is a legacy letter?

The emphasis in a legacy letter is on sharing the wisdom that comes from our life experiences and our hopes for the future. Addressed to a particular individual or group, the letter relies on stories from the writer’s life to illustrate their core values and life lessons. We can write legacy letters at any point in our lives. 

We may be contemplating marriage or the birth of a child or some other important transition. Whatever the event, we write legacy letters to support the future by passing on our values through the stories we tell.

Here’s the beginning of a legacy letter I wrote for someone very special to me … 


To my darling daughter:

First of all, I want to tell you, again, how much I love you. You bring Dad and me such deep joy and delight that I know I am truly blessed. As I know I have told you, as a young woman I was convinced that one day I would have a baby girl. That sweet idea was hard to reconcile with the peripatetic life I lived in my twenties and thirties, but I did have a very vivid dream of you before your dad and I traveled to China. I swear I saw you, as you would be at the age of six, reaching out your arms to me. I swear I heard you say, “Mommy, come get me.”

It seemed to take Dad and me forever to make our way to you, but finally there you were, my Baby Peach, in the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Nanjing. You and the other babies had made the four-hour trip with your nannies from the orphanage in Gaoyou, and, disconcerted by the strange surroundings, many of the babies were fussing. You? You sat quietly on your nanny’s lap, taking everything in. A little later, when we all gathered in a conference room to complete the process, you also sat still on her lap, watching the life you knew disappear.

When your nanny finally handed you to us, your composure broke. How upset you were, and how frightened—with very good reason. Dad and I were complete strangers, utterly alien in the way we looked and smelled and sounded, and I am sure you could tell I knew almost nothing about babies. Your cries were heartbreaking, and they lasted until, worn out, you fell asleep in my arms.

When we finished all the paper work and you had wakened, we brought you up to our room, and not long after we placed you in the crib in the middle of the room, you again fell into an exhausted sleep. When you woke after about an hour, Dad held you on his lap, and I sat across from you, and you and I had our first ‘head bonk.’ After we touched foreheads, you smiled as if to say, Okay, let’s give this a go.

It’s now fourteen years later, and Dad and I still cannot believe our good fortune. You are a dream come true. Because you are growing up so quickly, I want to set down words that I hope will comfort and sustain and perhaps inspire you when I cannot be by your side. Let me first say that I do know my shortcomings as a mother, the most significant of which may be that I can, as you well know, be overly particular—in plain terms, fussy. I think that somewhere I got the idea that my alertness to any and all potential hazards would keep everybody I love safe. However, to paraphrase a line in The Big Easy, a movie your dad and I have watched more than a few times, “Life has its own way of doing things.” I have come to understand that we will always be vulnerable to life, that to be human is to breathe uncertainty, and so we must always treasure what we have. And what I have is a daughter who makes my heart sing.

Because I love you so deeply, I want to offer you some insights I have had into what is really important. So many of these ideas you grasped at a very early age, but I commit them to paper so that when you are at a crossroads or at a loss, they will be close at hand, in a little book, and you will remember how much you are loved. You know you take my heart with you wherever you go and whatever you do …