Ethical Wills aren’t new. In fact they go back to Biblical times. But it’s within the last few decades that they’ve grown in popularity. People feel the need to leave something more than their worldly possessions. They want to convey to loved ones what they value, what has made their life meaningful, the hopes they have for their family and friends, lessons learned, and their regrets and achievements.
An excellent place to start composing your own Ethical Will is with Susan Turnbull’s The Wealth of Your Life: A Step-by-Step Guide for Creating Your Ethical Will. This is the third edition of her popular book first published in 2005.
Having designed and run numerous workshops on Ethical Wills myself, I was eager to work through Susan’s guide. To begin with it looks gorgeous. In fact it looks so good I was hesitant to begin writing in it! The 40 page guide is divided into 5 steps: imagining your audience, opening lines, reflecting and making notes, integrating your thoughts, and composing your Ethical Will.
A number of the changes in the Third Edition are cosmetic – changing fonts, redesigning the layout, and adding new visual elements. The core content, however, remains basically unchanged.
What’s new is that some of the steps have been expanded and are easier to follow. This is particularly true in Step Three: Creating Your Ethical Will which is the core of the guide. It’s divided into five themes: your feelings, your values, your perspective, your history, and your will or estate plan.
I know from experience how difficult it is to identify core values. It’s not something we’re asked to do every day. Step Three’s Your Values theme has been improved by the addition of a referral list of 82 values. To further aid readers to discover their values they’re asked to write down An activity or role that gives my life meaning and purpose. Then they’re prompted to identify The personal values that are reflected. And finally, readers are asked to consider The biggest reward of that activity/role. These prompts helped me see more clearly why some activities had meaning and purpose in my life.
I worked my way through all the sections of the guide and found that the prompts really helped me extract the juice from my life. All that remains now is to take all my notes and complete writing my Ethical Will.
It would have been helpful to include in the guide a few tips on the process of preparing an Ethical Will. We’re all different in how we like to do things but these few suggestions would give readers some guidance.
- Make a date with yourself when you can spend quiet, uninterrupted time each day to reflect on the prompts in the guide. Writing your Ethical Will is not something to be done in one sitting. It takes time.
- Write the way you talk. You’re not trying to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Friends and family will appreciate hearing your authentic voice.
- Read aloud what you’ve written. If you stumble over something, rewrite it.
- Don’t let too much time pass between working through the guide and creating your Ethical Will. A few days delay is okay but a few weeks will rob you of momentum. And there’s the danger you might never get back to completing the final step of actually writing your Ethical Will.
- When it come time to compose your the final version of your Ethical Will consider handwriting it on archival quality paper. Even if you’ve done a draft on your computer, handwriting adds a very personal note.
If you’re curious about Ethical Wills and looking for guidance in composing one, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of The Wealth of Your Life. Remember the words of Bertrand Russell, “One must care about a world one will not see.”
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