Sample Legacy Letters

Below are examples of Legacy Letters. Some are short, others long; some are contemporary and others date back to medieval times. They are written by a variety of people including grandparents, parents, an aunt, a 29-year-old woman with cancer, a mother to her unborn child, and a 100-year-old woman. I hope they spark ideas for your Legacy Letter.

Please feel free to send me your Legacy Letter via the contact page. I could possibly post it on this page. The letter can be anonymous, if that makes you feel more comfortable.

  • A tribute Legacy Letter from adult daughter to her parents
  • A five page letter from a mother to her teenage children
  • A one-paragraph Legacy Letter
  • A two-page Legacy Letter
  • A thirteen-page Legacy Letter from a grandfather to his children and grandchildren
  • An introduction from an eight-page Legacy Letter
  • A letter from a 100-year-old woman
  • A Legacy Letter from a dying 29 year old woman
  • A Legacy Letter was written by a 38-year-old to her as yet unborn child
  • A Legacy Letter by an aunt for her nieces and nephews
  • A Legacy Letter from a mother written to her son
  • President Obama's Legacy Letter to his daughters
  • A medieval ethical will (1 of 2)
  • A medieval ethical will (2 of 2)
  • A letter from a 78-year-old mother to her son
  • A letter from a mother in her 70's writing to her adult son and daughter
  • A letter from an 84 year-old mother and grandmother with early Alzheimer’s

  • An example of a thirteen-page Legacy Letter from a grandfather to his children and grandchildren:

    To My Family,

    I am writing you today to let you know how important you are in my life and how much I love you. As I have grown older, and new generations have joined our family, the grandchildren and great grandchildren, I continue to cherish what we have even more than ever. You all have been the delight of my life.

    I am writing my Legacy Letter to you today, May 11, 2011 in my 80th year. It is my hope that this letter will be a record of some of my life experiences and lessons I can pass on to you and your grandchildren. Perhaps, my insights can guide you somewhat and my missteps help you avoid the mistakes I have made.

    Our Family Legacy and Its History

    Your ancestors lived hard but eventful lives. My parents were born and raised in Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century. My father's town was Slonim in what was then Poland and now Belarus. My father was one of seven brothers: ( in order of birth ) Morris (Moshe), Jacob (Yankel), Max (Motil), Paul (Pesach), my grandfather Abe (Avraham), Harry (Hirshel) and and Schlemy (the only one who did not immigrate to the U.S.) Their mother was Chaya. Their father's name was Leib Dobkin, who died when his sons were young. Chaya remarried. So, my father grew up with with a step-father, half-sisters, and step-siblings.

    Two of his brothers left for America before WWI. Since there were terrible economic conditions after World War I five of the brothers also immigrated to the United States. Their mother joined them but returned to Poland in 1934 to re-unite with her son, Schlemy, the only brother who stayed in Poland. We never heard from them during or after WWII.

    More than likely they perished in the holocaust. My hope is to get to Israel and solve the mystery by researching the records stored in the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem. Don't ask me why I have not done this already. I do not have an answer. If I don't make it because I waited too long, perhaps one of you will fulfill this hope of mine.

    The brothers immigrated to America in a process very familiar to other immigrant families. One brother at a time would journey across the Atlantic Ocean to America; make some money, and then send for the next relative to join him in the land of "Milk and Honey." .

    My mother, Grandma Rosie, came from Lomza, Poland and emigrated with her sister Jenny when they were young women, having also been sent for by their brothers. Their brother's names were Louie, Izzy, Chayme and Nathan. Nathan died at an early age. My sister Nori (Nettie) is named after him. Jenny and my mother were accidentally separated in their journey from Poland to Holland, where they were to depart for America. Just before their ship's departure, they were tearfully re-united. Cousin Marvin has more details on this.

    Grandma Rosie had a tough life. Her teen years were spent in the middle of World War I. Poland was situated between Germany and Russia, and the armies of these warring nations battled it out on Polish soil. She told us that she was forced to dig trenches by the Germans. There wasn't much food to go around in this war ravaged country. It was a time of great deprivation.

    Grandma Rosie's survival method was to dream of better times. It kept her alive. She coped with life by not sweating the details but by keeping focused on her goals for herself and later for her children. Hers was a life of concepts not details. She was a fabulous cook and baker, but never bothered with recipes. She measured things by instinct and "feel." Often she judged people and made decisions on intuition. You could not hide secrets from her because of her intuitiveness.

    After arriving at Ellis Island, she and her relatives settled on Hester Street on the "East Side" of downtown Manhattan. Most of all of them first lived in the East Side, only houses away from each other. There she met my father who also lived in an East Side tenement. Today, if you wish to understand what life was like at the time for these immigrants, I would suggest visiting two museums, the one on Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum on Hester Street.

    When things got better for them they moved to Brooklyn. My parents and most of my uncles and aunts lived in Coney Island, a "better place," only blocks away from each other, unlike today's families that are geographically dispersed like ours. But one family tradition seems to be maintained by us now. All four of our children seem to yearn for a "better place." Singularly, they found the farmlands of Western Pennsylvania, an upscale suburb of Milwaukee and built lakeside log-house in Wisconsin; an upscale suburb of Washington, D.C. and enjoy a family retreat on the coast of New Jersey; and an upscale suburb of Denver and a Rocky Mountain condominium. Each in their own way has fulfilled a dream of my own to live in beautiful, natural surroundings.

    For the children, life in Coney Island with its beaches and amusement parks was rarely boring. If you said, I'm bored. My mother or father would say in Yiddish, "Stick your behind out the window and slap sour cream on it and yell bravo!" (Shteck dein tuchis ois dem fenster un patch dein tuchis mit shmetina un shrei bravo!)

    What they were saying is life is so beautiful and interesting, so tap into your imagination and creativity and find something worthy to do.

    To this day I can say that I've never been bored. If worse comes to worse and there really is nothing to do and I feel lonely, then I keep up a conversation with myself. I think I converse better with myself than with others.

    Another thing I learned from them is how to get along in a group. Grandma and grandpa would say, "Az tzvai zuggen shikeh, de dreetah darft gain shluffen." Or, when two say drunk, the third one (in the group) should go to sleep. In other words issues in a group should be resolved democratically.

    Papa set the example of being skilled, responsible and conscientious - putting forth an honest day's labor for an honest day's pay. Even though I grew up during the depression, I don't remember ever feeling hungry or deprived. He always managed to find work and buy the essentials for his family. My father, Abe, was a painter and decorator. He was also resourceful. During the depression, he had business cards and leaflets distributed, so when jobs were scarce, he would obtain odd jobs. One was to paint the rides at Coney Island during the off-season.

    I remember in particular when he painted the pavilion that housed the bumper cars. I met the owner when I delivered his lunch to him. The owner gave me free passes to ride the bumper cars when the rides reopened for the summer. I was so proud of my Papa. I realized, if you are smart and industrious, there are opportunities everywhere, even in hard economic times. Grandpa Abie was very strong for his size, only five-foot-six. Once he was painting the window frames of a .six story apartment building. The scaffolding rope broke. The scaffold platform disappeared from under his feet, and he was holding onto the rope for dear life. He climbed up the rope until he could find an open window to swing into and saved his life. Whenever you feel ungrounded and scared, remember Grandpa Abie, and know you too have the strength to swing into a more solid footing.

    He was a quiet man, yet he would share advice and make up sayings. He said if a painter entered a filthy house, he did a sloppy job. If you keep your house neat workmen will do a better job. He also told me, "Don't eat and shit in the same place." This saying meant that the dining area is special and other activities should occur elsewhere. Don't work in the kitchen and don't take telephone calls in the kitchen or the dining room.

    My dad wasn't religious but I found out that he was passing on Jewish traditions that he learned as a boy. In a traditional Jewish dining room you use special dinnerware for the Sabbath and Passover meals. Eating is a spiritual act, in essence eating the fruit of God. You treat the space you eat in as special.

    My father's insights were profound even though he lacked formal education. Some remain as a mystery to me. He came to visit me in Caldwell, New Jersey. I was living with my aunt and uncle during the summer time because my mother and sisters had gone to Saratoga Springs and the Catskills. My two older sisters were performers. They sang and danced. We were sitting in this park in Caldwell, New Jersey, a park that is still special to me for a number of reasons. My father made the poetic observation that nature made straight and crooked trees. What did he mean to imply? Were they both beautiful?

    Uncle Lennie influenced me also. Lennie, was a WWII veteran. I looked-up to him, following, in the newspapers and radio reports, his division's (104th Timberwolves) advance across France and into German. He actually helped to liberate holocaust victims held in concentration camps, and showed us photographs of the atrocities. When he returned from World War II in 1945, he needed temporary work, because he was a married man and a college student. He got a job as a temporary letter carrier during the Christmas season, and he said to me, "Why don't you apply?" I was only 14 years old, but with his encouragement, I did apply, and to my astonishment they hired me! I will never forget the lesson I learned from this. Take a chance even though the odds are not in your favor. Who knows what might happen? Two years prior, when I was 12-years old, we moved away from Coney Island to Flatbush in middle of the school term. My parents thought "we were moving on up." I was devastated. I had to leave behind a lot of close friends. Another setback was that at P.S.100 (Coney Island) I was at every grade level placed in the first section for the brightest students. At P.S. 92 (Flatbush), they placed me in the second section because the first was filled, which was a big letdown. I took a deep breath, dug-in, and, in 8th Grade, a year later, my schoolmates elected me President of the Student Government. The experience taught me to make the best of a situation.

    Religion: What Being a Jew Means to Me

    I had a religiously deprived youth. Even though at a very early age my mother described her deceased father, Velvel Simcha, to me as a tsadik -- a man who spent most of his adult life studying the Torah, leaving mundane things like raising the family and providing sustenance for the family mostly to his wife. Nevertheless, I know Velvel Simcha was respected as a person because me and three other male cousins, all first-born sons, were all named after him.

    My mother, who was very strong-willed on most everything else, deferred to my father on raising us void of any religious education. Although, he was a hardworking house painter, who always found work, even in the depression, he was very bitter about the American capitalist system. Karl Marx' dictum that religion was the opiate of the people pretty much described our family's belief about religion. My father was not a card-carrying communist, but he made sure that my sisters and I grew up in an atheist environment. We were, cultural Jews, however, having received a Yiddish education in the school of the International Workers Order (IWO); and we were exposed to Yiddish writers and poets -- Sholem Alecheim and Isaac Peretz.

    When I was about to turn 13, and having attended the Bar Mitzvahs of several of my friends, I discovered a yearning to be like them. With great trepidation, I announced that I wanted to be Bar Mitzvahed. My mother encouraged me, my father was silent on the issue. A friend of the family coached me, and on a Thursday in January, I attended morning services at the Prospect Park Jewish Center in Brooklyn to have my Bar Mitzvah.

    When I awoke that morning, to my surprise, my father was still in the house, having not left for work. Knowing that he never missed going to work even when he was sick, I asked, "What's wrong?" He said, "Nothing is wrong. I'm going with you."

    Not only did he go with me, but he was invited to the Bimah, and much to my amazement, he read the Hebrew prayers effortlessly, almost by memory. After the services, he left for work, leaving me to ponder the effectiveness of the education he must have received that pounded the prayers so effectively into his mind that he recalled them after many decades.

    Would this be a turning point in my life? Hardly, because after this, I was again adrift and even more confused. Why did my father go with me that morning? Why did he seem to abandon his strong convictions against religion? Was he uncertain and confused as I was? I was left alone to find my own way in dealing with spiritual matters and my Jewishness.

    A footnote to this story, is a very emotional experience that took place during one of my granddaughters bat-mitzvas. The rabbi announced that she was reading from a Torah saved from destruction by a group of Jews in Slonim. This raised the possibility that it was the same Torah from which my Dad read as a child.

    My association with the Prospect Park Jewish Center didn't end after my Bar Mitzvah. A chapter of Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA), the B'nai B'rith youth group, met there, and I became an active member for many years and was elected president. As a teen-ager the dramatic formation of modern Israel aroused feelings in me. I, like millions of others, stayed glued to the radio as the delegates to the United Nations cast their vote on statehood for Israel. When the war broke out between Israel and the Arabs after independence was declared, a friend of mine, recruited me into a youth organization that began to train to fight for Israel. We stood honor guard in our uniforms at rallies held in Town Hall and places like that.

    One day, two older youths came to my house to interview me, afterwards I saw them visit my neighbors. I would not be surprised if they became members of the Mossad ( the Israeli secret intelligence agency) They must have found out something about my background that they did not like, because, my friend stopped being my friend, and I stopped getting notices of the next meeting or rally. A few days later, I read in the paper that the group was practicing landings off Manhattan Beach, and that their boat was capsized and several of the trainees drowned. How strange that a son of a communist sympathizer had this encounter with a right ring Zionist group, called Betar, the youth organization of the Irgun.

    My Uncle Louie, my mother's brother and his wife Lillie owned one of the first Jewish-type delis and grocery stores in that part of New Jersey (Caldwell, mentioned earlier) Between ages 10 and 14, I would work at the store during the summers. I soon became a whiz at adding up cost of items on a paper bag. I also learned to cut butter from the big barrel. I took a knife and estimated a pound and it had to be pretty accurate because a customer who ordered a pound really wanted a pound.

    My Uncle Louie also thought I should get some fresh air and he showed me the way to the Caldwell Park where they had an outdoor arts and crafts program. On the park's picnic tables, I built model airplanes. That's the beginning of my love for model airplanes.

    The local boys at the park called me "New Yorker" instead of my name. I believe the nickname was a form of anti-Semitism because, in those days, Jews were not very well known in that part of New Jersey. One day I said, "Why won't you call me by my name, Willie? Why do you call me New Yorker?" The biggest bully among them said. "You don't like it? Do something about it."

    They challenged me to go with them up a hill away from supervision. It soon became apparent that we were going to resolve the name-calling controversy with a fight. I was scared because I never had a real fistfight in my life. He threw the first punch and I flayed at him. One of his punches landed on my Adam's apple and I could hardly stop gulping and coughing. The fight ended.

    The next day I went back to the park, and the local boys including the bully did call me Willie. The name New Yorker was never used again. I didn't run away from a fight. Sometimes you have to fight to defend yourself or something you believe in. Win or lose, sometimes you have to fight.

    We believe in America's diversity, a tapestry and not a melting pot. Cultivate a diverse group of friends and remember to judge a person as an individual, not by their ethnic, religious or racial group.

    Learn about your religion before you decide to live or reject it. I did everything possible to give all four of my children a Jewish education. We were strict with, Josh and Darren, and much more lenient with, Leah and Michelle. Strangely, my daughters became more interested in religious traditions than my sons. I say this not to prove anything about strictness vs. leniency. I'm just relating what has been our experience. I think it is important to provide some religious framework and also expose your children to all religions and cultures. What counts is how much you grow spiritually from the starting point you inherited. I hope you continue some of the traditions of Judaism and pass them on to future generations.

    Personally, I appreciate stories about the sages and prophets, especially those that help me understand the meaning of Judaism. One of my favorites is the one about Hillel and the proselyte who came to the great sage and asked to be taught the whole Torah quickly, in the time that he could remain standing on one foot. Hillel showed great patience and understanding. He answered by saying: "What is hateful to you, do not do to others. This is the whole Torah, the rest is Commentary. Go and study it."

    Well, I myself have not studied the Torah or the Commentaries, but I'm O.K. on living my life by way of the golden rule; and I do respect those who devote their lives to studying the Commentaries.

    I identify very much with the words of Henry Thoreau on his death bed, when his aunt asked, "Henry, did you make peace with your maker." And, he answered, "I didn't know that we quarreled."

    I know I haven't offered much in the way of spiritual guidance. However, I hope that my manner of living has served as a living example of the Jewish moral code.

    Politics, Social Change and Education

    You come from a long line of political activists. For those of you reading this letter who are not married yet, make sure that you marry someone who has the same feeling for social activism as you have; that they want to be involved in the community; that they also want to leave the world better than they found it. Make sure you marry someone who is secure enough in themselves to let you be what you are. Then you have found your soul mate.

    I was proud of my activism in creating the teacher's union, The United Federation of Teachers, and how I took part in the teachers' strike in 1960 for union recognition and collective bargaining. Only a small number of teachers took part in this first strike. We created a union that spread all over the country. It helped change our life for the better. Instead of working day and night and in the summers, I could take off during summer time as a result of the union gains. Our family shared wonderful summer experiences as a result of gaining a summer family vacation instead of having to take on a summer job.

    During one of the teacher's strikes, I ran an alternative school at a local community center to give the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) a better public image, and to say we're not striking against children; we will work during this strike for free. We're for bettering the teachers and thereby bettering education.

    In 2011, we are experiencing a head-on assault on unions and public employees, and I don't know where this will lead. I hope, as a citizen, you will feel empowered to fight for your rights and for social justice. When you care about the world around you, about something larger than yourself, and you act upon your convictions, know that all of your ancestors are rooting for you and your goals.

    As an elected official, in this case, park commissioner in Great Neck, Long Island, I believed it was important to be transparent and inclusive at public meetings. This openness allowed me to be successful in reaching my goals. Democracy thrives when citizens feel that they can speak their minds without feeling criticized. Public service is a noble profession, although in my adult life, some public officials became disrespected and suspect. Your legacy is what you fight for and what you protect. When you go to Steppingstone Park in Great Neck, and you see the seawall that was built under my chairmanship, and you see that we built an abutment around a tree when we built it, when you look at that tree, think of me; we saved the tree; and when you look at the tree at the PAL building at Memorial Park, think of me. During construction projects, we never allowed a tree to be taken down (whether straight or crooked). The construction had to accommodate the tree. There were other accomplishments. We saved a parcel of waterfront property for public use and were one of the first public entities to install emergency defibrillators. We used a dog to chase Canadian geese instead of killing them. I also feel that we changed the culture of the park and the way the staff interacted with the public. Remember to vote and never be discouraged by the political process. Margaret Mead said "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

    Social change can occur on the micro and macro level. Never underestimate the power of teaching one student and helping them grow. When I was an instructor of education and a high school supervisor, I attempted to impart my own philosophy of evaluating students. I would say do not measure a student so much as where he stands in comparison to the other students, but where he stands at the end of the term in comparison where he was when he first became your student. In other words what counts is how much you have helped the student grow from the starting point you inherited.

    Our liberalism has its roots in New Deal solutions to the Great Depression. Upon taking office in middle of the Great Depression, FDR sought the advice of economic experts. One of them began his presentation with the phrase "in the long run." FDR interrupted him, saying, "Please don't go on; people need to eat in the short run and not in the long run." We believe ( I hope all of us) that government must do for the people what people can't do for themselves. Concern over "big government" does not apply in finding solutions to human suffering. I am, therefore, very proud when I hear about my children participating in political demonstrations, participating in voter registration and turnout drives, volunteering to fly a great distance to save the life of a child in a third world country, speaking up at a corporate meeting about workers' intellectual property rights and leading workshops in non-profit fundraising. These are my kids. It is my hope that the tradition of social awareness passes from generation to generation. I am proud that all indicators point in that direction. My grandchildren already seem to have caught on. They do things like volunteering at a museum, demonstrating on behalf of collective bargaining rights of public employees, participating in mock trials and taking pre-law in college and a program that integrates math and social sciences in order to find scientific solutions to societal problems. Could you imagine how I felt when a grandson tells me he wants to be a teacher, and another one's serious girlfriend wants to be a teacher? Could you imagine how I felt when one of my grandsons accepted my invitation to sit in on one of my discussion groups? There were a dozen men present. Most of them were of the "Great Generation." He gently reminded them of the ideals they fought for. The beat goes on.

    To my grandchildren and great grandchildren, please remember it's important to do your best in school, but you don't have to be number one in everything to be happy. I hope that you will continue your passion for learning. In school, learn for the sake of learning and not only with an eye to a future career or how much money you can make.

    Learning from Mistakes

    I regret not foregoing a summer of being outdoors as a sports counselor at a camp to continue working at NBC, where I had a part time job in my senior year in high school. One big mistake was leaving a job that had great potential. When I was only 17, I had a job as an office clerk for NBC in Rockefeller Center, but I quit It after only one school year because I wanted to go back being a sports counselor at a summer camp, whose owner incidentally was the man who got me the job at NBC in the first place. It was 1948 and the broadcasting industry was just beginning its post-war expansion into television. Had I not left, I might have had a career that grew with the TV industry itself. This is why I think I made a stupid mistake, and why I had a good shot at having a career in media. During the same school year, my English teacher recommended me to take my junior- year English course at WNYE, a public radio station operating out of Brooklyn Technical High School. This was part of the All-city Radio Workshop for talented students. I was the only one in my high school to receive a nomination in this citywide talent search. My course was in script writing. Apparently, my English teacher thought that I had writing talent. This, plus my keen interest in current events brought me this honor. Imagine what my life would have been if I continued working at NBC through my senior year in high school and college and graduated into a full-time position at the Rock. Sure, had I become a broadcasting executive, I would have not had the opportunity as an educator to affect the lives of thousands of students; but, in media, I could have reached millions. My mistake was not seeking the advice of anyone, especially not having an adult to whom I looked up and to whom I would listen. I would advise the young members of my family to maintain a relationship with someone they respect who could advise them at a critical time in their life. If I could do it over again, I would cultivate a relationship with some adult ---- someone to respect. If you do this you can bounce ideas off this person to gain direction. If you find someone like that grab hold of that relationship and cultivate it.

    Another regret is that I was more interested in changing the community and changing the world than I was in changing my personal life. If I could do it all over again I would devote more to my personal life and seek a better balance between work and family.


    As a parent especially of children of teenage years, be a parent and not a friend. Children have friends; they need the adult leadership and example that a parent can provide. As a brother or sister, cherish your relationship with your siblings. Friends are important, but good sibling relationships are indispensible during a lifetime. Help your spouse fulfill his/her goals and aspirations. I found a lot of satisfaction in helping to fill out an application for higher learning, encouraging a career change and being a cheerleader when challenges happen. Don't take your family for granted. Maintain your family relationships When there are family differences between you and a member, patch it up as soon as possible. Don't let it simmer. I've known too many people who let family differences simmer until they became over-cooked and couldn't be renewed.


    I like to say that I never worked a day in my life, because I found all my vocations fulfilling, satisfying and enjoyable. The major occupations were teacher, supervisor, newspaper editor and park commissioner. The advice I would pass on is not to lock yourself in a vocation that you find tedious. My happiest moments are when I am surrounded by family, followed by, when someone in the family acquires an honor or achieves a goal. Happiness is when I see a child's first step or hear his/her first word, when a world event underscores the basic humanity of all people such as the current changes in the Middle East referred to as the Arab Spring, when I see or hear genius at work, when I view a Pink Panther motion picture, when I serve an ace in tennis or get on the green in one. Open your eyes; reasons for happiness surround you. My wish for all of you is to open yourself up to all the beauty that surrounds you. Enrich your mind, exercise your body, and feed you spirit with music, art and meaningful work, friends, family and helping the community at large. When you were young, I used to say, "Do as I say and not as I do." Now that I am older, I hope I was able to demonstrate the values expressed in this letter. You have all been a great source of joy and strength for me. My love will always be with you; you get to keep it and remember it forever.


    P.S. Don't forget to hear the do it bird and remember that D and O are how you spell "do" and the first two letters of our last name.

    Sources: Leah Dobkin,,,