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18 ways to start building your legacy today

Inheritance of Hope (IoH) Co-Founder, Kristen Grady Milligan, may have been the best legacy-builder ever–while living with cancer, she prepared cedar chests full of notes, gifts, and videos for each of her three children.  Although young when their mom passed away, Kristen’s son and two daughters continue to feel her presence through the tangible ways she left a part of herself with them.  

Kristen Grady Milligan, March 18, 1973 - October 26, 2012
Kristen Grady Milligan, March 18, 1973 – October 26, 2012

While it was excruciatingly painful for Kristen to think about leaving her young family, she knew that building a legacy was worth it, so she found a unique way of changing her perspective.  Deciding that she had two primary roles–to thoughtfully find ways of showing her family how much she loved them and to make sure that her values were passed down–Kristen reframed her objective into these two facets, a focus that helped her stay hopeful.  


Kristen with Ashlea, Rebecca, and Luke shortly after her diagnosis
Kristen with Ashlea, Rebecca, and Luke shortly after her diagnosis

Kristen never gave up–in fact, her goal was to be there when her children received each pre-selected gift or pre-written milestone note.  And, for some of her children’s birthdays, she was there as they opened the gifts and read the letters she had prepared years before.  


In honor of Kristen’s legacy, here are 18 ideas, many from families who have been served by Inheritance of Hope, for easy and fun legacy-building activities:


1. Put on some tunes and sing together. Music is powerful. Songs stick in our memory easily, and happy times singing and dancing just strengthen family bonds. You can also make a playlist of your favorite music to share with your kids.


2. Have a secret family recipe? Take a picture of your family eating it all together and write down the origins of the dish and attach to the recipe.


3. Put away a piece of “fan gear” from your favorite team to give a child as a gift later.  Coming up with gifts for the future can sometimes be hard, but the happiness of cheering on a team together is a memory for all time.


4. Think the idea of journaling seems too daunting? Use our Love Notes. Or, how about keeping a box of index cards handy so that you can jot down quick thoughts/family memories/funny quotes/etc.  If you store your index cards in the kitchen, you know they will be nearby when many of those quotes and memories actually happen. You could even do this together at mealtimes!


5. Come up with a phrase you say to your kids to convey how much you love them. Make it meaningful to you and say it over and over again–when your kids wake up, at bedtime, before they leave the house, when you share a meal, or any other time–something they will remember as unique to you.


6. Is there a book that made an impact on you? Buy a copy for your children and write an inscription on the inside cover telling them why you loved it. Some parents even record themselves reading a favorite book.


7. Buy a postcard from places you visit. (Even if it is just your local museum or hometown tourist attraction–these are actually some of the very best and most important places for kids to visit!) Jot down a “had-to-be-there” memory you shared–the funnier or more unusual the better–and keep all your postcards in a dedicated travel box.


8. Love a particular quote, phrase, or verse? Have it written up or printed in a decorative font and frame it for a prominent spot in your home. Consider making an individualized piece for each of your children that they can display in their own personal space.


9. Record a “day in the life” snapshot for each of your children for a given moment in time. Photograph them in their favorite outfit; note what they often eat (and don’t eat!); their most-loved toy or way to spend downtime; current strengths, likes, and dislikes; and most importantly, what exactly you love about them at this particular stage, and your hopes for their future (immediate and long-term).


10. One of our IoH dads started out by making a bulleted list of happy memories with his young children. For example, which child was the one who had to be strolled around the block to go to sleep!  Starting simple like this can lead to a long list that a child will always treasure. Need ideas? Use our Legacy Book for prompts.


11. There are lots of new keepsakes that can be personalized, if you are willing to do just a little internet search. For example, jewelry can be made in your own handwriting!


12. Use technology for good: create an email for your little ones. Send photos/videos/thoughts and love notes when you are stuck waiting in carpool lines or other places. When they turn 18, give them the login for a virtual treasure chest to comb through!


13. Turn that bucket list upside down. Don’t only focus on what you want to do, celebrate what you have done and what “fills your bucket!” List some of your favorite memories so your kids will know what has been important to you, the things you are proud of, and what you are grateful for. This is a great year-end activity or way to mark new milestones.


14. What are you good at? Try to teach that skill to your family, or explain what it took for you to become an expert!


15. Who in your past made a difference in your life? Share their story with your children. Reminders of family history connect future generations to past, and this continuity can give children a sense of belonging.


16. In the age of online gaming and infinite streaming services, many kids can’t relate to the things that passed for entertainment in their parents’ generation. Reminisce with your family about how you spent your free time as a child. Make the kids suffer through an episode of your favorite TV show as a kid! Buy an old board game that you loved, and bring back the family game night!


17. As you think about ways to create a legacy, remember what a legacy is: the act of leaving foundations that can be built upon for the future. And, that all starts with the hopes and dreams you have for your family. Share those dreams with them, and share the dreams you had when you were their ages! Thinking through a legacy in terms of hopes and dreams can easily solidify the values you want your children to continue.


18. Download our Hope@Home™ App. Our introduction on Building a Legacy is the best place to start in our Living Hope library of resources. You’ll find inspiration for developing a personal legacy, understand the scope of what that means, and even get tips on where to start. Next, take a peek into highlights from our Inheritance of Hope Legacy Collection, which focuses on the physical representation of legacy. You’ll get ideas on how to write, journal, scrapbook, take photos, and document your moments so they can be shared with loved ones for years to come.

To learn more about Kristen; more about who we are at IoH; and find more information on our life-changing programs for young families with a terminally ill parent, please visit us at


Angie Howell is constantly inspired by the people she meets in the Inheritance of Hope family.  Her connection to IoH goes back to Davidson College, where she met Kristen Grady Milligan the first week of their freshman year. Kristen eventually started Inheritance of Hope with her husband Deric, and Angie heard about their work at a college reunion.  In 2010, the two former hallmates got back in touch, and Angie became involved in IoH shortly afterwards. She has served as a Legacy Retreat volunteer, Coordinator, and now, as Communications Manager, Angie helps tell the stories of IoH. Read more Inheritance of Hope blogposts >>