Category Archives: Ethical will

Ethical Wills 101: Part One ~ How to Begin

In an earlier post I wrote about the importance of ethical wills. Today, I’m beginning a series on how to write one.

Writing your ethical will is about reflection. It’s about taking the time to sit back and really reflect on who you are. Now some of you may have had plenty of time to do that already. Others of you may find it hard to squeeze yet one more thing into a busy day. Not to worry. When I wrote my ethical will my “hair was on fire”. Believe me, if I could do it then you can do it now. Here’s how I’d suggest you begin.

  1. Ask yourself why you’re writing an ethical will and for whom. It’s important. Otherwise it’s too easy to say, “Ah, this is too much trouble. I’ll start on it some other day.” Chances are you’ll never get back to it. In my case I wanted to write an ethical will for my partner. I wanted not only to talk about the things that mattered in my life but what I was grateful for in our years together. In the event that I died, I wanted to leave behind a legacy letter that would be of some comfort – a letter from my heart to my partner’s heart. I also found it useful to have someone in mind to whom I was writing rather than a generic, “Dear family” or “Dear children” approach. So, let me ask you why you’re doing this? Is it to share with your spouse things about yourself that aren’t always self-evident? Or are you wanting to offer some life lessons to your children that may serve as a guide as they grow older? Perhaps you’re writing your ethical will for a long trusted friend? Please note. Ethical wills are not the place to get even with someone nor to sermonize on how someone else should lead their life. Those are poison-pen letters!
  2. Buy an inexpensive lined notebook. The notebook will become your work space as you develop the content of your ethical will. Now I can hear some of you saying, “Pen and paper! What’s wrong with using my computer?” Remember what I said at the beginning. This is an exercise in reflection. It helps to disconnect ourselves from all the electronic devices that whir and click and ping. For many of us, workdays are spent staring at a screen. Finding a quiet corner undisturbed by a flickering computer screen will go a long way to allowing your mind to relax and be reflective.
  3. Write the opening lines of your ethical will. At the top of the first page of your notebook write, “Dear…………., I’m writing you this ethical will because…………” Now if you’ve done steps one and two this should be relatively simple.
  4. Schedule a regular time to work on your ethical will. To make certain you maintain some momentum and get your ethical will written, block out some time. Think of a time of day when it’s relatively quiet – a time when you’re most reflective. For me it’s early in the morning. Mark into your calendar at least 30 minutes, three time a week. If you can do more that’s even better. The important thing is to make a date with yourself and stick to it.

Good luck in getting started! Next week I’ll bring you Part Two ~ Discovering Our Values.

Photo by Caitlin Heller

What Do Sidney Poitier and Ethical Wills Have In Common?

I was talking to a friend the other day and she mentioned Sidney Poitier’s latest book, Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter. In it the aging actor writes a series of inspirational letters to his newly born great-granddaughter. Drawing on his own experience, he reflects on some of life’s profound themes – love, faith, death, personal strengths, and failures. This isn’t so much biography as it is an elder’s advice for a great-granddaughter Poitier knows he will never see into adulthood. You can read a review here.

Poitier’s book is really an elaborate, extended ethical will. Unlike property wills, an ethical will is a “spiritual” letter to a loved one in which a person writes about their values and beliefs, life lessons learned, hopes, what they’re grateful for, faith, and forgiveness.

We all owe it to those we love to take the time to compose our ethical will. None of us know how much time we have on earth. Accidents, illness, and violent acts can cut our lives short. How do you want to be remembered?

Here are some other ethical will websites you might find helpful.

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Image created by Dan Curtis from a photo by Kevin Walsh