My personal coach and good friend, Dr. John Rhodes, once said that the greatest legacy you leave behind is the journal you keep with your thoughts and dreams; the pictures of family, friends and community, and the love letters you have written to and received from the people who hold a piece of your heart. Although this sounds perfect, if you are like me, maintaining a journal is a lot easier said than done…Which is why I have come to embrace the idea of an ethical will.
An ethical will is not a legal document that talks about money or assets. It is a story you tell your loved ones about your walk through Life—so that you may share your values, both innate and learned; blessings; experience of love; spirituality; forgiveness and last, but not least - your hopes and dreams for the future of the legacy you leave behind. You might consider it as many do a final love letter to the ones you have held dear in your heart.
Although an ethical will has no set format or required content, here are just a few ideas to help you get started.
- I believe the most important things in life are:
- The most important events in my life were:
- The values I wish to pass on to my family are:
- The most important thing I have done in my life is:
- I have always felt strongly about:
- I hope my family will learn from my experiences of:
- Something I learned from my (grandparents, parents, siblings, spouse, children, grandchildren) was:
- It is my hope that my children and grandchildren will use their inheritance to accomplish these goals and dreams in their lives:
- It is my hope that my children and grandchildren will continue these family traditions after I am gone:
- This is how I would like to be remembered:
You may also want to include quotes, cartoons or stories that convey your thoughts and feelings. I encourage you to take your time. Collect your thoughts and the latter items discussed over a few months. Take a few moments out of each day to jot these down. Then, when you feel the time is right, review what you have collected and your story will emerge. After you have it written, put it aside again for a few weeks and then review and revise. Last, know your ethical will is not concrete. Your biggest life lesson learned might occur next month. The good thing is you can add it.
One of the questions we ask our clients is: If this were your last day on earth, where would you want to be? What would you want to be doing? Who would you want to be with? And, what would you say to the people you love the most? An ethical will gives you the chance to say what the answer to the latter question might be. Your ethical will may well be one of the most cherished gifts you can give to your family from generation to generation.