Many people are recognizing that there is more to living and dying than writing a traditional will or even a memoir, buying a burial plot, and pre-planning your funeral. More and more people are writing an Ethical Will, sometimes a general letter to all family members and sometimes specific letters written to individual family members and friends. Even President Barack Obama took the time to pen a legacy letter to his two daughters, Sasha and Malia, while still in office.
Origins of the Ethical Will
The origins of the Ethical Will are rich in spirit. Writing an Ethical Will began as a Judeo-Christian tradition. The original example of its use was derived from Genesis 49:1-33 when Jacob gathered his sons as he was dying to offer his blessing and relay his burial wishes. In Deuteronomy 32:46-47, Moses instructs the Israelites to be a holy people and teach their children.
In Medieval times, Ethical Wills contained the guidelines of fathers to their children or of teachers to their apprentices, including thoughts and lessons of high moral value. Ethical Wills most often took the form of a personal writing style, and were only intended for the private use of those near and dear to the departed.
Ethical Wills continue where traditional wills leave off. A traditional will is a legal document in which a person bequeaths their earthly and monetary possessions as in inheritance to their remaining loved ones and close friends. An Ethical Will is privately read and often is not shared beyond the writer and the intended recipient.
An Ethical Will is written to communicate and share your values and wisdom, history, stories, and love from one generation to the next. It creates a legacy by not only preserving who you are but also what matters most to you. And an Ethical Will serves as a way to be remembered and to make a real difference after you are gone.
Why Write an Ethical Will
Simply put, there is no one else like you. No one else has the same life experiences—good or bad. And no one else possesses your particular brand of wisdom and experience. And no one else is going to write an Ethical Will for you. You’ll have the potential to affect multiple generations, perhaps even hundreds of years from now. An Ethical will can be one of the greatest gifts you can leave to both your children and grandchildren.
Finding Spiritual Healing through Writing an Ethical Will
Stemming from the Hebrew word "Zava'ah," both rabbis and Jewish people have written Ethical Wills during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Through the years, Ethical Wills have been described as an aid to estate planning and as a spiritual healing tool.
The writing itself is typically spiritual in nature, allowing the writer to learn and heal through their own thoughts and emotions. An Ethical Will can take on many forms, from a loving farewell letter to a memoir or a remembrance letter summing up one’s life and feelings to a true Ethical Will, describing and passing on the life lessons learned. For those who have had a difficult life or a struggle at the end of their lives, creating an Ethical Will can help shed light on purpose and provide clarity to an otherwise darker time.
There is true therapy in writing things down, in recording your thoughts and feelings, and in passing these on for others to learn from and incorporate into their daily lives.
The Ethical Will as a Memoir and Gift to Self
In preparing an ethical will, you are not only leaving a gift behind, you are also giving yourself a gift. Perhaps this is an Ethical Will’s greatest importance because it covers a basic universal need: the need to be remembered and to have made a difference while we walked the earth. One goal of an Ethical Will can be to link a person not only to their family, friends, and loved ones after they have passed, but also to create a tie to their cultural history. An Ethical Will can also be written to clarify their ethical and spiritual values to future generations.
Writing an Ethical Will can also help to satisfy many human needs:
- To belong
- To be known
- To be remembered
- To make a difference
- To bless and be blessed
- To celebrate life
- To leave something behind
- To document your history and stories
- To help you understand your own values
- To share your ideals
- To help you learn more about yourself
- To help you accept mortality
- To create a way to ‘live on’ after you are gone
- To provide worthiness and accomplishment
- To make your life feel complete
Writing an Ethical Will can help the author to identify and focus on their individual life purpose. Today, Ethical Wills are written by men and women of all ages, ethnicities, faiths, traditions, economic circumstances, and educational levels. Ethical Wills can even be written by teens or younger children who are faced with a terminal illness.
What to Include in Your Ethical Will
The options of what to include in your Ethical Will are nearly limitless. You may choose to write your Ethical Will in a memoir form or perhaps draft a spiritual letter to your current and future descendants. Here are some ideas you may wish to impart when writing your Ethical Will:
- Your story
- Life lessons
- Life regrets
- Actions taken
- Actions not taken
- Spiritual lessons
- Requests for forgiveness
- Preserve family history
- Rationale behind final philanthropic and financial decisions
- Clarification for advance health directives
- Requests of how to be remembered after death
The content may or may not differ from one writer to the next, but the purpose and intent are what makes an Ethical Will truly unique. When you take the time to reflect on your life and pass down your wisdom, love, and values to those who will continue to live after you, you provide eternal blessings by leaving a lasting legacy, that will live on in their everyday lives. And they can, in turn, pass on your values and add values of their own to their own children and grandchildren.
Sadly, the story of most people's life will die along with them, including their wisdom and lessons learned.