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What is Your Legacy? Leaving a Legacy Information & Advice

Sharing messages and memories near the end of life

During the 1950s and ’60s, James took hundreds of photos of his wife and five children. And through those busy years, the precious pictures lay in random drawers and boxes. After James retired, he spent months creating thick photo albums for each family member – even including their birth certificates and other special mementos.

“It was very important to him to be able to leave these albums to his family,” said James’s son, Jim Jr. “It also gave him a chance to revisit happy times from his past, and reflect on what was most important to him.”

Like James, many people want to leave a meaningful legacy behind – such as a scrapbook, letter, or keepsake — as well as less tangible things, like happy memories and valuable life lessons.

Near the end of life, leaving a legacy can help the person cope with the idea of their death, and bring peace to them and their loved ones.

Even people with no surviving family or close friends – or those who don’t care if they’re remembered – may find meaning by creating a legacy for themselves as they live their life.

“Your legacy is really about focusing on what matters most to you,” says Kim Rumaker, LCSW, Samaritan manager of social work and spiritual support. “If you’re on hospice care, ask your hospice team to help you create the kind of legacy you desire.”

What is a legacy?

A legacy can be defined as any or all of the following:

> Something a person leaves behind to be remembered by.

> Something that provides comfort by ensuring the person will be remembered after they die.

> The impact a person makes during their life and/or after their death.


The benefits of leaving a legacy

The act of creating a legacy can provide many benefits to you and your loved ones.

In fact, reminiscing with loved ones – which is often part of the legacy process – can provide mental-health benefits for both older adults and their family caregivers. It can relieve stress, encourage social interaction, and reduce depression symptoms, for instance.


In addition, leaving a legacy can allow you to: 

  • Communicate your stories, views, values, and commitments to those who matter most to you.
  • Contribute your experience and wisdom to future generations.
  • Feel that you are heard and that you matter.
  • Preserve your family history.
  • Deepen your connection to your family, past and present.
  • Clarify your values and define your goals.
  • Create a basis for your living will/advance directives and estate planning.
  • Achieve a sense of closure about your life and prepare for your death.

For your loved ones, your legacy can also help them:

  • Make the most of your remaining time together, by connecting through your legacy gift.
  • Enjoy a closer connection with you.
  • Feel more comfortable with your end-of-life decisions.
  • Continue to feel your love and caring, even after your death.
  • Feel comforted, year after year, by the legacy you’ve left them.
  • Remember who you were, the contributions you made, and what was important to you.

What about Living Wills?

A living will is different from a legacy, but they can complement each other.

A living will is a person’s written statement of the type of medical care they want and do not want, if they become unable to communicate.

Some living wills – such as the popular Five Wishes – also include the individual’s personal and spiritual instructions. For instance, Five Wishes asks how you want people to treat you, and what you want your loved ones to know.

Creating either a living will or a legacy will naturally cause you to think about similar issues, and help you make decisions and choose goals that are right for you.

Looking for further information about living wills?
Click here to learn more and request a free copy of the Five Wishes living will

What is your legacy? Leaving a legacy – together


You may feel you don’t have the time or energy to work on a legacy project, especially if you are seriously ill. However, legacy work can be done in small amounts of time, spread over days or weeks. You can also ask your loved ones and hospice team to help you. In fact, another benefit of leaving a legacy is that it can provide opportunities to spend meaningful time with family and friends.

Tip for Leaving a Legacy: Timing is Everything

Don’t put off creating a legacy, especially if you have a serious illness or are on hospice care.

Research shows that people who wait too long often become too ill to work on their legacy.

Here are some common types of legacy projects:

  • Create a memory album. It can be anything from a small collection of meaningful photos, to an extensive array of items: pictures, personal notes, ticket stubs, event programs, cherished recipes, certificates, and the like. You can share fond memories with friends and family as you write captions for the items.
  • Write a memory journal. Ask loved ones to help you write down stories, memories, and thoughts about your life. This process will provide a chance to connect deeply with those you hold dear, in addition to leaving a legacy that’s as personal as you’d like it to be.
  • Write letters. These can be personalized to each recipient: reflecting on your time together, sharing happy memories, expressing your feelings for the person, and offering any advice, hopes, or wishes. Similarly, an “ethical will” is a letter to family and friends that describes your accomplishments, beliefs, and wishes.
  • Create audio or video recordings. Personalized recordings allow you to express your thoughts, memories, and feelings in your own voice—a precious gift for those you leave behind.
  • Make a shadow box. Include cherished items that represent who you are, including your interests, activities, and the things that are most important to you. These keepsakes will bring smiles and treasured memories each time your loved ones see them.
  • Create a memory box. Invite your friends and family to add memories to the box each time they visit you.
  • Plant a tree or garden. This living legacy will remind people of you as it grows and blooms. Your loved ones can honor you at your memorial service by presenting seed packets of your favorite flowers.

What is your legacy about?

You can include almost anything in your legacy project, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Memories of key events, including births, weddings, trips, graduations, and other important milestones and achievements.
  • Family stories, including those from relatives who pre-deceased you.


More ideas for leaving a legacy

 Other ways of leaving a legacy include giving important objects to loved ones, or making a donation to a worthy cause. Here are more legacy ideas:

  • Make a family tree. A companion piece could include facts and recollections about these relatives.
  • Create a binder of favorite recipes. Include any notes or memories about special times you served the dish.
  • Compile a list of favorite songs. Make note of special associations with each song.
  • Give loved ones jewelry or other keepsakes that have special meaning to you. Write a note about each piece, why it’s special to you, and why you want your loved one to have it.
  • Make a blanket from favorite T-shirts or other clothing.
  • Make a charitable gift, such as a park bench, scholarship, or other financial legacy in your family’s name. (For information on making a legacy gift to Samaritan, visit Giving to Samaritan.)
  • Prepare cards or gifts for future celebrations. Ask loved ones to ensure the items are delivered at the right time.
  • Write a poem or song. Give copies to loved ones, or make a video as you read or sing the piece.
  • Make a hand print with paint on a canvas, or in plaster, for your loved ones. (Kits are available in craft stores and online.)

“Leaving a legacy is about connecting with those you love – while you’re living – as much as it’s about leaving something behind,” says Kim Rumaker.

If you live in South Jersey and have questions about leaving a legacy or hospice care,
please call Samaritan at (800) 229-8183.