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Leaving a Legacy

Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends. It’s the longest-lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs.

—Steve Saint

Most of us have written legal wills that leave a distribution of our physical assets to our heirs and or organizations. But have you looked at leaving behind an ethical will for your children, family, or those you love deeply? A document that shares your values, your beliefs, your life lessons, what you stand for, or what you feel is important in life?

Your legacy can surely include your trophies of hard work but imagine what it would mean to leave the words on paper that you carry in your heart as your core compass. Leaving behind a part of your emotional tapestry for generations to remember and carry on.

An ‘ethical will’ allows you to take a deep dive into not just what is important to you but also how you want to be remembered. Sometimes we assume people know our value system or our story but perhaps it is seen through a different lens with foggy details lost in time.

An early example of an ethical will occurs in Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Polonius advises his son, Laertes:

Give every many thy ear, but few thy voice, Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment… Neither a borrower not a lender (be), For (loan) oft loses both itself and friend…”

A simple yet powerful life lesson left by a father for his son. My mother died at an early age, and I still hunger for this kind of personal insight from her.

The ethical will can look as different as each of us are individually and cover various topics:

Life lessons, personal history, family stories, regrets, simple love letters to those in your sacred circle, or a journal that highlights anything that captures the essence of your personality, heart, and soul.

As a writer, I realize now that I have unintentionally written an informal ethical will that is my legacy when I am no longer here.

Excerpt from my recent journal entry/blog:

I write because I want to remember.

I want to remember every beautiful detail, every crushing heartbreak, and every messy moment that is part of the tapestry of my life. I want to remember and celebrate the chapters that were written and the seasons that have passed so I can call on them as a way to navigate my life forward with humility, gratitude, and grace.

My journal reflects my story, my journey, and mostly my heart. Not only does it capture my lifeline, but it also speaks to how deeply my family is loved. The thought that my words on paper will transcend my physical body brings me a huge sense of peace.

There are now many Estate Planners who can assist you in writing your own ethical will, or there are templates if you want to create your own. Or… just write something that you want your family to remember and carry forward.

What will be your legacy?


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Carolyn Lebanowski
Carolyn Lebanowski
She began her professional career in retail and grew to become an experienced and respected senior-level executive with particular expertise in strategic development, organizational communication, and executive coaching. After nearly three decades of career growth in corporate organizational development, Carolyn was ready for a career change—and a life change. This led to a new role and the most challenging, enriching, and rewarding work of her life, as a Strategic Business Leader for nonprofit spiritual institutions. These roles provide her the opportunity to fuse the professional and the personal, aligning her business acumen with her spiritual identity and passion for the development of human potential—in her colleagues, her community, and herself. Carolyn is a writer who seeks above all to share from the heart. Her impulse to write began 20 years ago with letters to her children and grew into journaling that was unedited and life-affirming. Today she writes with a focus on raw, authentic experience, drawn from real life, to explore, express, and make sense of the pain and joy, struggles and triumphs, of life. In all her endeavors, she champions connection, integrity, and radical positivity.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I love this. I too want to leave a written account of my legacy so when I pass on I will be remembered and perhaps known a little better as a human being. I do this in the poetry books I leave behind and I’m writing my autobiography. And pulling a few Memoirs out of it.
    I dint know why it’s so important to me but it is. That family would know me and understand me. And best of all remember me.

    • Eva,
      I love what you say here: …..”perhaps known a little better as a human being.”
      We all have ‘stories’ but sharing deeply is where our hearts are seen and felt.
      I think we all want to be seen, understood and remembered.
      So happy for you that you are starting now.

  2. Given that there are Estate Planners and templates that can help create an “ethical will” it sounds like it’s been a thing for a long time, yet YOU, Carolyn, are the person who introduced me to this idea today! I had never heard of such a thing, but of course it makes so much sense and I can see what a powerful legacy it can be. Thank you! You’ve given me (and, in turn, my husband) something to think about as we consider how we want our son to remember us. Hugs to you!

  3. Your words are carried out in real time here, Carolyn.

    My mother is reminiscing on events from her life, and fortunately I have heard so many of the stories or been there listening at the dinner table, that I can fill in the names and places that are slipping, and have some idea why this or that event was important to her.
    For many years, these stories defined her life. My heart goes out to the people who grow old and don’t have anybody who cares enough to listen to the old and frail or can’t help make sense of what was important to them. Writing things down may not be for just ones children but can help a care taker know the person in front of them as more than a wrinkled body.

  4. An ‘ethical will’ is a great idea, Carolyn.

    You know that my father left one for us and it turned out to be our compass for being good.
    Popularizing this idea is even good for the parents. They know they do not just write a will. they also document their ethics.

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