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How to Leave a Living Legacy

As we gather with our families for the holidays, stories are told and memories shared. Penelope Lemov explains how technology can help us preserve those precious words and images for generations to come. Read more from Penelope on her blog, Parenting Grown Children.

How to Leave a Living Legacy

The latest term for a living legacy is Ethical Will. It means passing on to our grownchildren and their children our values and the wisdom we’ve garnered over the years–or just a sense of the life we’ve lived and the lessons we’ve learned. So helpful to have a term for one of the two main parts of leaving a legacy. One, of course, is leaving to future generations and other loved ones an orderly and fair division of our worldly goods; the other–and it’s of equal importance–is sharing a sense of who we are, where we’ve been and what we value.

When it comes to the Ethical Will, some of us take a traditional route: we sit down and sketch out a memoir or make a list of points we want remembered. But there are lots of tech tools that can help us make it more engaging. One is to create a PowerPoint slide show full of family photos, favorite sayings–yours and your favorite Aunt’s–books that have importance to you, poems that bear quoting, audio clips of favorite music, even video clips of TV characters who’ve said something worth remembering or so amusing it will remind everyone of your delightful persona.

According to a New York Times story, the technical tools people are using to “to put a human touch on their legacies” include videos, DVDs, digital scrapbooks, iPhone apps (such as StoryCatcher) and  Facebook pages.
The impact of the tech-enhanced Ethical Will that can be shared and seen by all your heirs has an additional bonus. Estate lawyers, the Times reports, are suggesting their clients use such tech-savvy Ethical WIlls as a means of delivering a strong personal message that can help avoid nasty family conflicts. As one lawyer noted, messages are best heard when conveyed through tone of voice or posture. “Being appropriately emotional in a video adds more dimensions than just words on paper.”
That said, Barry Baines, author of “Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper,” adds these words of warning: don’t use your legacy link to blame or scold anyone by reaching out from the grave.“ It should be a love letter from the heart so people can share who they are.”

There’s personal enrichment in the process of putting your life on paper or video. As Baines put it, “Putting together an ethical will early on helps you live life with more intention.”

Besides, who doesn’t like to tell their story–and tell it without interruption.

Penelope Lemov

As Penelope Lemov, I'm a senior correspondent and finance columnist for a national magazine. Everyone else knows me as Penny. In that richer and more personal life, I have two grown children, both of whom have started families of their own--in cities far from the familial manse and from each other. Among the smallest denizens of that world, I'm PenPen. And that suits me best.

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